Fiery Washington state train derailment leads to evacuation of nearby homes, businesses

Train cars were on fire after a derailment near Birch Bay Wash., about 10 kilometres south of the Canadian border, which caused a large evacuation of homes, businesses and an elementary school in the area, according to the Whatcom County sheriff’s office.

The derailment also forced the closure of the I-5 highway on Tuesday afternoon.

An image from a Washington state Department of Transportation highway camera showed a plume of dark smoke rising into the air.

“We are working to evacuate a 1/2 mile radius from the site of the derailment,” the sheriff’s office said in a tweet just before 1:30 p.m. “Train cars are on fire. AGAIN, PLEASE AVOID THE AREA.”

The sheriff’s office first post on twitter about the incident came a little after noon, with the situation being called an “evolving incident.”

The evacuation area is centred around the derailment at 7500 Portal Way in Custer, about 10 kilometres south of the Canadian border. The evacuation orders don’t appear to have affected anyone in B.C.

The I-5 is closed in both directions between Grandview and Birch Bay Lynden Road, according to the sheriff’s office.

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway said in a tweet that the train involved was carrying crude oil and that three to five tanks cars derailed just before noon on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the company in Texas sent CBC News a brief statement, saying nobody aboard the train was injured and that it was northbound transporting crude oil. The company didn’t confirm whether it was headed for Canada.

“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this incident. Our main priority is to work with public emergency responders to protect public safety,” BNSF said in a statement.