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Train Derails, Catches Fire in Va.

March 31, 1998

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) _ At least seven railroad cars and two locomotives derailed and caught fire today, producing toxic smoke that forced authorities to evacuate five blocks and an elementary school.

One of the cars contained thousands of gallons of acetone, a flammable solvent that produces poisonous fumes when burned.

The fire also spread to a storage building near the tracks where unidentified snow-removal chemicals are stored, said police spokeswoman JoAnn Martin.

The acetone and the locomotives’ diesel fuel continued burning more than 2 1/2 hours after the accident, producing a column of black smoke visible for miles. Firemen used breathing gear while fighting the flames.

However, southerly wind carried the smoke away from town, Ms. Martin said.

No injuries were reported.

The derailment occurred at 9:37 a.m. as railroad workers were uncoupling several cars on a track about 1 1/2 miles from downtown, Ms. Martin said. The cars rolled down the track and hit other rail cars.

There was no immediate estimate of the number of people forced to leave their homes and businesses. About 200 youngsters from Dearington Elementary School were taken to another school while authorities contacted their parents..

Acetone is a colorless, flammable liquid widely used to remove paint, varnish and fingernail polish.

Ms. Martin estimated the loss to the storage building at $750,000.

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