County officials lifted an evacuation order for residents of a North Dakota town on Tuesday, a day after a train carrying crude oil derailed with a series of explosions and huge fire. The accident came amid rising concerns about the United States' increased reliance on railroads to carry crude oil.
Although the evacuation recommendation was lifted Tuesday afternoon, Cass County Commission Chairman Ken Pawluk said officials were urging residents south of the derailment to stay vigilant about changing conditions. Pawluk estimated that the fire was about 80 to 90 percent burned out by Tuesday afternoon.
Cass County Sheriff's Sgt. Tara Morris said on Monday that the evacuation of a section of Casselton was a precaution in case of a wind shift. A thick smoke plume from the burning cars was largely staying to the southeast of town. Casselton has about 2,400 residents and is around 25 miles west of the larger city of Fargo.
A number of cars from the mile-long BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks outside of Casselton, N.D. at about 2:30 p.m. Monday, and as many as 10 of the cars caught fire. No one was hurt, and at the time, authorities warned area residents who weren't evacuated to stay indoors because of potentially toxic fumes.
Cecily Fong, Public Information Officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, told Al Jazeera that a grain train derailed first, striking the oil-carrying rail cars.
Fears of catastrophic derailments were stoked after last summer's crash in Canada of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.
The tracks that the derailed train was on Monday pass through the middle of Casselton, and Morris said it was "a blessing it didn't happen within the city." The derailment occurred 2 miles from the city's ethanol plant.
Hannah Linnard, 13, said she was in the bedroom of her friend's house about half a mile from the derailment, wrapping late Christmas presents.
"I looked out the window and all of a sudden the train car tipped over and the whole thing was engulfed in flames and it just exploded. The oil car tipped over onto the grain car," she said. Hannah said she could feel the warmth even inside the house.
"Each one, you could hear the explosion," he said. "It shook our building and there was a huge fireball."
North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the United States, trailing only Texas, and a growing amount of that oil is being shipped by rail.
The state's top oil regulator said earlier this month that he expected as much as 90 percent of North Dakota's oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 percent.
The number of crude oil carloads hauled by U.S. railroads surged from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 this year. Despite the increase, the rate of accidents has stayed relatively steady. Railroads say 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipments reach destinations safely.
The Associated Press. Al Jazeera's KD Fabian contributed to this report.