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Updated: Wed, 08 Jan 2014 10:13:55 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Fire burns at CN derailment of crude, propane near Plaster Rock



New wheels for derailed cars arrive in Plaster Rock area. Shane Fowler / CBC

New wheels for derailed cars arrive in Plaster Rock area. Shane Fowler / CBC

Fire burned through the night and into the morning following the derailment of a CN Rail train hauling crude oil and propane in northwestern New Brunswick.

Plaster Rock Fire Chief Tim Corbin said Wednesday morning that responders are waiting for daylight to determine how to proceed.

"We could see the fire from quite a distance, so we haven't went right into it yet because we had to determine what was in those cars first," said Corbin.

"We have determined that the cars that are affected in the derailment are crude oil and propane cars," said Corbin. "We're waiting for daylight right now to get in and get a better look at it as how we're going to attack it."

The derailment happened around 7 p.m. Tuesday, near Plaster Rock.

The train was headed east from Toronto to Moncton, N.B.

Corbin said there are no homes or buildings in the immediate area, but about 50 homes in the vicinity have been evacuated.

Jim Feeny of CN Rail says 16 of the 122 cars on the train derailed. One of the derailed cars is at the front of the train and the other 15 are at the back of the train.

Of the 15 cars at rear, four are carrying crude oil and four are carrying propane, said Feeny.

Helicopter to check the area

Some cars were carrying butane, but they were not among those that derailed, said Feeny.

"The biggest concern is the propane cars," said Corbin. "That's our biggest concern because if they happen to explode, we're looking at major damage.

"So we're trying to just keep everybody at a safe distance right now until we can get a clear picture of what we're dealing with."

Feeny said it is not known if the cars carrying crude oil or propane are involved in the fire.

"Those cars are in the fire zone," said Feeny. "But at this point, because it is still dark, we have not yet determined if those cars are actually on fire.

"We know there is a fire but we haven't confirmed what is actually involved," he said.

"At first light this morning there will be a helicopter surveillance that will give us a better indication of what the situation is on the ground."

​Corbin says he has heard reports of explosions associated with the derailment, but isn't able to confirm whether any occurred.

Hazardous material responders from Toronto, Moncton and Montreal were en route to the scene overnight.

Feeny said not all the cars may have necessarily originated in Toronto. Once the train arrived in Moncton, the goods being hauled would have been dispersed throughout Atlantic Canada, he said.

Feeny said he was not in a position to state the ultimate destination of the crude oil and propane cars.

The derailment happened in Wapske, in the area of the Longley Road where lumber cars are loaded.

People five kilometres away in Plaster Rock reported seeing flames.

Air quality alert issued

The derailment and subsequent fire prompted the provincial Health Department to issue an air quality alert for the Plaster Rock area.

The regional medical officer of health for the area said residents should take precautions when heavy smoke affects air quality.

"Infants, children, pregnant women, older adults, smokers and people with chronic heart or lung diseases should stay indoors to reduce their exposure to the outdoor air," said Dr. Yves ​Léger, regional medical officer of health for the area.

Anyone experiencing difficulty breathing or chest discomfort is advised to contact a physician.

Léger also recommended that anyone who can taste or smell smoke in the air follow guidelines including to:

- Reduce levels of physical activity as necessary.

- Consider sheltering indoors with windows closed.

- Turn air exchangers off so as to avoid bringing outside air into the home. 

- Remember that dust masks, bandanas or other clothes (even if wet) do not offer protection from smoke.

Feeny said there were no injuries to the crew. There have been no reports of injuries to the public.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt declined an interview request.

"We thank the first responders for their quick action," said Ashley Kelahear in an emailed statement.

 "Transport Canada is monitoring the situation and is in close contact with local officials.  

"The proper authorities will determine the cause of the incident."

The Red Cross established a shelter for evacuees in Plaster Rock, though it was not utilized by anyone overnight.

LIVE BLOG: Derailment news conference

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