Crews extinguish Kentucky derailment fire that prompted town to evacuate, rail operator says

Train-Derailment-Kentucky
This image taken from video and provided by WTVQ shows people sitting at a table at Rockcastle Middle School being used as an evacuation center in Mt Vernon, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. People were evacuated from a nearby town after a CSX train derailed Wednesday near Livingston, a remote town with about 200 people in Rockcastle County. CSX says two of the 16 cars that derailed carried molten sulfur, which caught fire after the cars were breached.
WTVQ via AP

Rail operator CSX said Thursday that a chemical fire at a Kentucky train derailment that caused evacuations has been extinguished.

CSX spokesperson Bryan Tucker said in a brief email that “the fire is completely out.” He said that authorities and CSX officials are evaluating when to encourage displaced residents to return home, and they will release more information later Thursday.

The CSX train derailed around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday near Livingston, a remote town with about 200 people in Rockcastle County. Residents of the town were encouraged to evacuate.

Two of the 16 cars that derailed carried molten sulfur, which caught fire after the cars were breached, CSX said in a statement.

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It’s believed that the fire released the potentially harmful gas sulfur dioxide, but officials have not released results of measurements taken from air monitoring equipment that was being deployed Wednesday night.

The derailment meant some Livingston residents woke up on Thanksgiving in a middle school shelter.

Cindy Bradley had just finished cooking for the big meal Wednesday when an official knocking loudly urged her to leave her small Kentucky home as soon as possible because a train had derailed.

She ended up at Rockcastle County Middle School in Livingston — unsure what was to come next.

“It’s just really scary. We don’t know how long this is,” Bradley told WTVQ-TV on Wednesday night, surrounded by dozens of cots.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems, depending on the concentration and length of exposure. The gas is commonly produced by burning fossil fuels at power plants and other industrial processes, the EPA says.

Evelyn Gray noticed a problem when her back door was opened by someone telling her to evacuate.

“As soon as he opened the back door to come in the chemical hit me, and I had a real bad asthma attack,” Gray told the TV station.

The danger from sulfur dioxide tends to be direct and quick, irritating the lungs and skin, said Neil Donahue, a chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

“It is just nasty, caustic, and acidic stuff that hurts. It’s unpleasant to be in," Donahue said.

Once the fire was put out, the threat from the chemicals was expected to diminish quickly, Donahue said.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in the county, assuring crews all the help from the state they need. He asked the public to keep in mind the emergency workers and people forced to spend Thanksgiving away from home.

“Please think about them and pray for a resolution that gets them back in their homes. Thank you to all the first responders spending this day protecting our people,” the governor said in a statement Thursday.

CSX promised to pay the costs of anyone asked to evacuate, including a Thanksgiving dinner.