Burning propane spewed from wrecked railroad tank cars Monday, threatening to blow up additional cars loaded with the fuel and keeping the town’s entire population away from their homes.
“This is about as serious as it can get,” emergency management official Paul Thomsen said. “A detonation would be catastrophic.”
No injuries were reported.
Throughout the morning, the leaking gas blazed in a 200-foot wall of flames. At times, the light of the fire was visible up to 13 miles away in New London.
During the afternoon, however, a snowstorm obscured the inferno from view. Firefighters were pulled back to let the fire burn.
After taking an early evening helicopter tour, Gov. Tommy Thompson said it appeared fire in two propane tankers had burned out, but two others were still burning, putting 10 other tankers at risk of exploding.
Thompson said hazardous materials teams probably could not get close enough to check the site for explosive vapors before noon Tuesday.
“We think we are doing everything humanly possible but right now it is a wait and see game,” he said.
Thirty-seven cars of a 81-car Wisconsin Central Ltd. freight train derailed just before dawn in this eastcentral Wisconsin city.
As the cars piled up, one of the train’s 14 propane tank cars exploded, destroying a nearby feed mill and forcing the evacuation of 1,700 people from the town and two nearby nursing homes.
The 14 tank cars were loaded with a total of 1 million pounds of propane, shipped liquefied and under high pressure, Thomsen said.