Units from several area fire departments responded to the Norfolk Southern rail yard shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday, including the Bellevue, Berlin Township, Clyde, Groton Township, Huron River Joint Fire, Margaretta Township, Milan Township Perkins and Townsend Townhsip departments.
Flames from the burning tanker cars shot high in the air, catching fire to the power lines above. At 10 p.m. Saturday, an official told the Reflector “they’ll probably be there for awhile.”
“We walked in the house at 2:22 a.m. (Sunday),” Groton Township Fire Chief Kerry Jett said Sunday evening.
The cause of the fire was still undetermined Sunday, the chief said.
“I’ll let Norfolk Southern determine that,” Jett said. “It looks like it probably was a failure in a piece of equipment. It was nothing intentional. It was just an accident.”
The fires affected tanker cars carrying ethanol, and those tankers were damaged by the flames, Jett said.
However, the situation could have become much worse.
“The ethanol tanker was damaged, it lost its product and it started a fire,” he said. “It was next to a liquefied petroleum tanker and a butane tanker was right next to it. Makes you get kind of tight chested.”
Once firefighters began their attack on the fire, it “didn’t take long” to get get it under control — about 90 minutes, the chief said.
“Safety is the number one concern,” he said. “Safety not only of the public, but the firefighters and equipment on the ground — you’re concerned about that too. Then you have to make a judgement call … If it works, well you’re a hero. If not, go to Plan B and hope that works. Thankfully Plan A worked here. It’s good we were able to determine what the best course was, especially given the situation.”
Firefighters went to Strecker Road and Ohio 99 to fill up water tanks.
The fire caused area roads to be closed temporarily. Among them were a section of Ohio 4 (for about an hour) and a section of Ohio 99 (for about 3 1/2 hours).
Officials told the Reflector there were no injuries and no explosions. Damage estimates were not available Sunday evening.
“There was damage to the power line utility poles,” Jett said. “Those are all internal damages, though, to the utility power poles. They were Norfolk Southern’s poles, so they’ll take care of that.”
Jett said the initial report was still in progress, so he did not have totals for the number of firefighters and trucks at the scene.
Five rail lines converge at the rail yard, which is about halfway between New York City and Chicago — making it a key spot for Norfolk Southern.
Covering 650 acres and stretching 5.5 miles, the Bellevue location is one of Norfolk Southern’s largest hump yard and one of the largest in North America. Freight cars are collected and sorted for final destination there.