On Friday, June 19, 2009, a Canadian National freight train derailed and caught fire in Cherry Valley, IL. The train consisted of two engines, one car carrying scrap metal, one empty liquid tank car, 36 empty cars, one car carrying gravel and 74 tank cars, each containing 28,800 gallons of...
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At 2:30 A.M. on June 20, command was advised that all evacuations were complete. At 3 A.M., LeFevre was sent home for rest as he would be the incident commander during the overnight hours of June 20. At 3:30 A.M., command began releasing mutual aid companies from the mall staging area to return to their departments. Command decided to leave two alarms of units in the north and south staging areas in case of any unforeseen event.
Decision Made To Extinguish Fire
By 10 A.M. on Saturday, the fire on the west side began to burn down to a level where command and railroad personnel felt it could be extinguished safely. Cherry Valley Engine 503 supplied two unmanned monitors that were set up on the north side, each flowing 750 gpm. Engine 503 was on a hydrant 300 feet north of the incident. On the south side, Dixon Rural Fire Department Engine 3 supplied two unmanned monitors. This engine was fed by a hydrant on the south side. The fire was extinguished and water flow was maintained for one hour for cooling of the tank cars. At noon, it was determined that it would be safe for crews on the south side to remove the body of the adult female killed while trying to flee her vehicle. This operation was completed at 12:10 P.M. by the Winnebago County Coroner's Office with Harlem Roscoe Fire Chief Donald Shoevlin. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived at 1 P.M.
During the afternoon, it was discovered that the truck and wheels from one tank car penetrated the dirt next to the road to a depth of 10 feet, striking and damaging the outer casing of a 16-inch natural gas distribution line operating at 288 psi. The inner pipe was not damaged. Had the train been going faster, it is believed, the inner pipe would have been damaged, causing a high-pressure natural gas-fed fire in the middle of the derailment and impinging on the tank cars.
The tank cars on the east side continued to burn actively with relief valves operating until 3 P.M., when the fire started to burn down. Command had two monitors placed on the north side and two monitors on the south each flowing 750 gpm. Water flow was maintained for two hours to cool the tank cars. Command advised that all fires were extinguished at 5 P.M. on Saturday, 20½ hours after the initial dispatch. Once the fires were extinguished, the NTSB began its investigation.
All mutual aid companies were released at 5 P.M., and all fill-in companies were released at 6 P.M. on Saturday. At 5:30 P.M., evacuees were allowed to return to their homes. At 6 P.M., command was transferred to LeFevre for the overnight hours. As the NTSB progressed with the investigation, it let the railroad begin removing the wreckage. Private-contract recovery and firefighting crews began removing the tankers by foaming the inside of each tanker and then lifting them by special bulldozers and carrying them to an open area between the two sets of tracks. During this time, Cherry Valley firefighters provided fire protection to the recovery crews and the crews digging up the natural gas line that was struck.
At 9 A.M. on Sunday, Wilt assumed command of operations until 4 P.M., when it was determined that the fire department was no longer needed and Mulford Road command was terminated. During this operational period, Cherry Valley firefighters continued to protect recovery crews as wreckage was removed and cut up. At one point, railroad personnel requested confined-space firefighters to standby as they needed to enter one tanker.
This was the largest incident in the history of the Cherry Valley Fire Protection District and as bad as it was, it could have been much worse. The train was traveling 34 mph in a 50-mph zone. The train had experienced wheel slippage coming out of Rockford going up an incline because of wet tracks, and the engineer backed off on the throttle. At the time of the derailment, the train was just starting to pick up speed again. Had it been going 50 mph, it is believed, there probably would have been no survivors from the vehicles at the rail crossing. One person, a 41-year-old woman, died at the scene from burns. Her 40-year-old husband and 17-year-old daughter, who was five months pregnant, were both critically burned. The fetus did not survive. They were in a minivan on the south side, the first vehicle in line at the crossing waiting for the train to pass. Five people who were in vehicles on the north side of the crossing received injuries from minor to moderate. Damage was estimated at more than $1.5 million. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.