East Texas Train Derailment Causes Chemical Fire

Twenty eight cars, some carrying chemicals, spilled over and caught fire when a train went off the tracks Sunday afternoon near Chandler.  It happened right above the Neches River. More than 500 people from nearby neighborhoods were evacuated as a precaution.

Not knowing what chemicals may have spilled, when local fire departments arrived they immediatly blocked off nearby roads.  Soon, a cloud of black smoke appeared in the sky, smoke that just kept growing and growing.

"At this time there is a fire," said Chandler Fire Chief Robert York.  "It's not a very toxic chemical, but it is running into the lake. It's on fire on land, and as it leaks into the water, it's heavier than water, so it is extinguishing itself as it goes into the lake." Union Pacific says the chemical is a lubricant oil, which officials say can be hazardous.

"It is a skin irritant," said York. "You don't want to breathe it. It is a lung irritant as well, so it can cause respiratory problems. There are some cars that may be hazardous, but they are not in danger of the fire at this time." With smoke blowing into nearby neighborhoods, local officials say they were forced to evacuate around 500 people. Larry Wickham lives right next to the railroad tracks.

"There were huge flames," said Larry Wickam, who lives near the derailment. "You could see the flames leaping up some 15 to 16 feet at least, and it looked like a box car was on fire." Right now, officials are not sure what damages the chemicals caused to the environment, or how long it will take to clean up. York says the situation could have been much worse.

"It was headed into Chandler," said York. "A little bit later, 15 to 20 seconds more it would have been up here in town, and we would have a major problem.'   Local officials say no major injuries were reported. Tyler city officials say they shut down the Lake Palestine water treatment plant as a precaution, but say the water from the Lake Tyler plant located on Golden Road is still being used.

Molly Reuter, reporting. mreuter@kltv.com