DUPO, Ill. – Hours after several train cars derailed in the Metro East, crews were still busy cleaning up the wreckage. Tuesday's derailment sparked a massive fire in a train yard near Dupo that sent a dark plume of smoke in the sky that could be seen for miles.
Dupo resident Nicholas Weiss said it was "chaos" in town. Weiss was on his lunch break when a co-worker told him about the fire.
As Weiss drove towards home, the smoke cloud got larger. He worried it might spread to his home blocks away from the train yard.
"Pretty scary, so I come rushing home to check on my father and my house and make sure everything's okay," Weiss said.
Kristen South, senior director of corporate communications for Union Pacific, said around 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, 14 rail cars derailed in the Dupo Yard near Carondelet Avenue between N. Main Street and Adams Road.
At the time of the derailment, a train was being built for departure. The derailment sparked a fire, which spread to several cars.
The tank car contained a flammable liquid called methyl isobutyl ketone which is typically used as a solvent, according to South. This spurred a mandatory evacuation order for three subdivisions, one business, and Dupo schools, impacting hundreds of people.
Herb Simmons, Emergency Management Director for St. Clair County, said the evacuation was a precaution based on early information and some uncertainty about the type of chemical and its possible impact on people.
A local community center was opened where about 40 people took refuge. The fire was extinguished by about 3:15 p.m., and, after air quality tests came back clear, the evacuation order was lifted around 3:45 p.m.
"We're going to continue to monitor the air quality downwind and south wind for about five miles from where we're standing into the foreseeable future," South said.
Simmons said 40 agencies assisted with the incident. Despite the fire, chemicals, and the lingering summer heat, no injuries or illnesses were reported.
"They can replace all those rail cars," Simmons said. "No loss of life or injuries is always a success story."
The cause of the derailment is under investigation. Union Pacific crews will work Tuesday night and early Wednesday to remove the derailed cars. Then they will inspect the track and make any needed repairs.
The main Union Pacific track was closed temporarily for the safety of first responders, according to South, but was reopened to train traffic a short time later.