10:25 a.m. UPDATE: BNSF oil train cars on fire, N.D. town evacuated aftertrain derailment

HIMDAL, N.D. - The small North Dakota community of Heimdal and surrounding farmsteads have been evacuated after a BNSF Railway oil tanker train derailed Wednesday morning.

HIMDAL, N.D. - The small North Dakota community of Heimdal and surrounding farmsteads have been evacuated after a BNSF Railway oil tanker train derailed Wednesday morning.

Wells County Emergency Manager Tammy Roehrich said the BNSF Railway oil tanker train derailed around 7:30 a.m., setting six oil tanker cars on fire.

Roehrich said she couldn’t get close enough to the train to see whether it was exploding or just burning.

“It looks a lot like Casselton,” she said, referring to the  fiery train wreck of oil tankers near Casselton in late 2013.

Wells County 911 Director and Deputy Sheriff Janelle Pepple said the the sky was black with smoke near the derailment site.


BNSF said in a statement that the tank cars involved in the derailment were unjacketed CPC-1232 models, which are targeted for phase-out by 2020 under new federal safety rules announced last Friday.

BNSF acknowledged that a fire had occurred at the scene of the crash and confirmed that there were no injuries, in a statement from spokeswoman Amy McBeth.

Emergency crews from several fire departments in the region and hazardous materials teams from Devils Lake and Grand Forks responded to the derailment, according to Cecily Fong, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. She reported 10 tanker cars on fire.

The train was operating on the BNSF line near Hamburg, another community within Wells County in central North Dakota, said Fong, adding approximately 40 people were evacuated from Heimdal, which is about 19 miles from Hamburg. No injuries have been reported.

The train's engine and some of the attached cars were decoupled and moved away from the burning tanker cars, Fong said.

The 2010 Census reported 27 people living in Heimdal and 21 residents in Hamburg. Both are in northeastern Wells County.

In addition to HAZMAT teams from Devils Lake and Grand Forks, the state Highway Patrol and firefighters from Harvey, Fessenden, Hamburg and Devils Lake have been dispatched.

A photo posted on Facebook by a local radio station showed flames and heavy black smoke from several tank cars that had derailed in a field.


Ron Reimche, a school bus driver for the Harvey School District, said he crossed the same train tracks a few miles away from the scene shortly before the crash was reported. He had been on his way to Esmond to pick up his first student of the day.

“I meet the trains every so often at that crossing,” said Reimche, adding that he makes sure to stop well back from the train tracks on his route. “In my opinion, they ought to hurry and get that pipeline in.”

Heimdal is a tiny town in central North Dakota located along one of the main rail lines heading east out of the giant Bakken oil patch. About two-thirds of all North Dakota oil production is shipped by rail, three-quarters of that to refiners on the U.S. East Coast.

"We are aware of crude derailment and resulting fire near Heimdal, ND. We have investigators on their way. Will update when we know more," Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration, said in a message on Twitter.

The derailment came just days after the U.S. Department of Transportation and Canada's Transport Ministry announced new rules last Friday for oil trains, including phasing out older tank cars, adding electronic braking systems and imposing speed limits. The measures were all meant to reduce the frequency and severity of oil train crashes.

The volume of crude oil by rail has rocketed in recent years as production increases from areas like North Dakota outpaced new pipeline development.

A spate of explosive accidents have accompanied that growth, the worst of which occurred in July 2013 when a train derailed in the town of Lac Megantic in Canada, killing 47 people.

Already this year, five trains have derailed and caught fire in the United States and Canada, all in rural areas. No deaths have occurred but the accidents have stoked fears about the safety of crude oil by rail.


Reuters and Forum reporter Emily Welker contributed to this story.

Check back for more developments.

IMDAL, N.D. - The small North Dakota community of Heimdal and surrounding farmsteads have been evacuated after an oil tanker train derailed Wednesday morning.

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