Fiery Washington state train derailment leads to evacuation of nearby homes, businesses

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A number of train cars caught fire after a derailment near Birch Bay, Wash., about 10 kilometres south of the Canadian border, which caused a large evacuation of homes, businesses and an elementary school in the area, according to the Whatcom County sheriff's office.

The derailment also forced the closure of the I-5 highway on Tuesday afternoon.

An image from a Washington state Department of Transportation highway camera showed a plume of dark smoke rising into the air.

"We are working to evacuate a 1/2 mile radius from the site of the derailment," the sheriff's office said in a tweet just before 1:30 p.m. "Train cars are on fire. AGAIN, PLEASE AVOID THE AREA."

Later Tuesday, the sheriff's office updated its information, putting the evacuation area at a radius of 3/4 mile or 1.2 kilometres.

The evacuation area is centred on the derailment at 7500 Portal Way in Custer, about 10 kilometres south of the Canadian border. The evacuation orders didn't affect anyone in B.C.

By late afternoon, the evacuation order had been lifted, but returning residents found police checkpoints and were ordered to shelter at home. Officials say nobody was hurt in the incident.

A photo posted by the sheriff's office on Twitter appears to to show firefighters responding to the fire relatively close to buildings and vehicles. It's not clear if nearby property was damaged.

Washington State Department of Transportation
Washington State Department of Transportation

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway said in a tweet that the train involved was carrying crude oil and that three to five tanks cars derailed just before noon on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the company in Texas sent CBC News a brief statement, saying the two crew members aboard the train weren't hurt and that it was travelling northbound.

The railway crosses the border into B.C., travelling through White Rock, but according to BNSF, the 108-car train was carrying crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in Ferndale, Wash.

BNSF updated the number of cars that derailed, putting the number at 10, three of which caught fire.

"Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this incident. Our main priority is to work with public emergency responders to protect public safety," BNSF said in a statement.