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A train carrying ethanol derails and catches fire in Minnesota, evacuation lifted

The scene this morning after a BNSF train carrying ethanol and corn syrup derailed and caught fire in the west-central Minnesota town of Raymond early Thursday, March 30, 2023, and residents living near the scene were evacuated in the middle of the night.
David Joles/Star Tribune via Getty Images
The scene this morning after a BNSF train carrying ethanol and corn syrup derailed and caught fire in the west-central Minnesota town of Raymond early Thursday, March 30, 2023, and residents living near the scene were evacuated in the middle of the night.

Updated March 30, 2023 at 5:43 PM ET

A train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire in western Minnesota on Thursday morning, prompting an evacuation for residents near the crash site in the city of Raymond.

The Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office announced early Thursday afternoon that the evacuation order had been lifted and residents could safely return to their homes.

The sheriff's office was notified of the derailment at about 1 a.m. local time, according to a statement. The BNSF-operated train derailed on the western edge of Raymond but was still within the city limits.

Twenty-two cars carrying ethanol and corn syrup derailed, and four are on fire, BNSF told NPR in a statement. About 10 of the railcars contained ethanol, an official with the railroad said. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

"There are no other hazardous materials on the train and no injuries as a result of the incident," the railroad said.

Authorities established a half-mile evacuation area around the crash site, and law enforcement officials and other emergency responders assisted, the sheriff's office said. Residents with nowhere else to go went to an emergency collection site in nearby Prinsburg, Minn.

Raymond has a population of about 900 people and is about 100 miles west of Minneapolis.

The "site remains active as the fire is being contained," and there is no impact to groundwater, the sheriff's office said. BNSF personnel are on site and working with first responders. Environmental Protection Agency personnel arrived at the scene at 6:30 a.m. to monitor the air at the site and throughout the community, the agency said.

The main track is blocked, and it's unclear when it will be reopened, BNSF said. There are also detours on nearby roads, the sheriff's office said.

Mayor and Assistant Fire Chief Ardell Tensen told member station Minnesota Public Radio that the derailment was so loud that some firefighters heard the cars crashing together along the tracks. Firefighters were letting some of the ethanol burn out, but much of the fire had been extinguished as of 6 a.m. local time.

"We didn't know if they were going to blow up," Tensen said, which is why the city decided to evacuate residents nearby.

Cleanup will take several days and will begin when the National Transportation Safety Board gives the railroad permission, BNSF officials said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said the derailed cars were "state-of-the-art" and designed in such a way that they won't explode.

As cars are moved over the course of the cleanup process, residents may notice flare-ups but shouldn't be alarmed, BNSF officials said.

"There's always lessons learned here," Walz said. "There will be time to figure out what caused this."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the Federal Railroad Administration is on the ground in Raymond and will be involved in the investigation.

Another BNSF train carrying corn syrup derailed earlier this month in Arizona. Both derailments come on the heels of two high-profile Norfolk Southern derailments — one involving a train carrying toxic chemicals near East Palestine, Ohio, and another in Ohio with no toxic chemicals on board.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kaitlyn Radde
Kaitlyn Radde is an intern for the Graphics and Digital News desks, where she has covered everything from the midterm elections to child labor. Before coming to NPR, she covered education data at Chalkbeat and contributed data analysis to USA TODAY coverage of Black political representation and NCAA finances. She is a graduate of Indiana University.