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BNSF train derails northwest of Fargo; no one injured

A BNSF Railway fuel tanker car burns at the scene of a derailment Sunday afternoon near Page. David Samson / The Forum

PAGE, N.D. - Earl Belling was sitting in his living room when he heard what sounded like "big bombs" going off in his backyard.

"I heard funny noises," he said pointing out his front window.

The noise was 37 train cars derailing on the tracks lining his backyard Sunday near Page. Moments later, Belling saw a large fireball as a car full of methane gas exploded, igniting two other fuel tanker cars.

"It was a loud noise," he said.

The accident, which occurred about 12:40 p.m. on Sunday, involved a BNSF Railway train traveling westbound on a main line.

The train was turning a curve about a mile southeast of Page, which is about an hour northwest of Fargo. About six to 10 cars were completely off the tracks.

Authorities initially feared they might have to evacuate the town.

"Our major concern was immediately the safety in the area and the safety of the community of Page," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said. "We didn't know what was in those cars."

Crews were afraid the explosive materials in the cars would be hazardous and pose a threat to the nearby town.

After speaking with hazardous material experts, though, authorities determined the incident was contained.

"We could have had to evacuate the town," said Page Assistant Fire Chief Rick Anderson.

He and other off-duty officers rushed in Sunday to respond to the accident.

Anderson was ice fishing at an area lake when he heard noise he likened to the sound of thunder.

"I thought, 'God, I wonder if a train derailed,' " he said. "And then the pager went off two minutes later."

Along with the Cass County Sheriff Department and Page Fire Department, North Dakota Highway Patrol and Burlington Northern crews also responded to the scene.

In the end, though, Bellig was the only resident who had to evacuate. Authorities were concerned he was too close to the scene as they continued clearing the cars. No injuries were reported. Other cars in the line were empty or contained sand, Anderson said.

"The big thing is everybody's safe, nobody was hurt," Laney said. "Now we start the game plan on how we're going to clean things and get things back to normal here."Anderson said he didn't see any fuel leaking out of the tanker cars. The cars on fire were left to burn out before crews cleaned up the scene.

About 75 BNSF authorities are investigating and will release a crash report with the cause of the accident, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said.

The train was traveling from Minneapolis to Minot, he added, and the line could be opened as early as tonight. In the meantime, other trains will be rerouted.

Melonas couldn't speculate on a cause of the accident, but, "the tracks are inspected and upgraded regularly," he said.

Anderson added that it's been a few years since Page has seen a train derailment, though, about 20 years ago, he said, a train crossing the same curve as Sunday's train also derailed.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515