By Matt Pearce and Ralph Vartabedian
A small community in North Dakota was evacuated Monday evening after a train carrying crude oil collided with another train, setting off a large fire and explosions, according to the local sheriff's department.
No injuries have been reported, Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff's Office said.
Officials received a report at 2:12 p.m. of a train derailing about a mile west of Casselton, a city of 2,432 people about 20 miles west of Fargo, Morris said.
Steven Forsberg, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, said the accident occurred when a grain train derailed and hit a crude oil train on a second main track, causing it to derail as well.
"A fire ensued, and quickly a number of the cars became engulfed," Morris said.
Residents and media captured images of large explosions and a pillar of smoke coming out of the flaming wreckage that could be seen for miles, but Forsberg said no crew members were injured.
Morris said firefighters had managed to detach 50 of the 104 cars on the oil train but had to leave the rest.
"They can't fight the fire due to the extremes of the explosion and high temperatures," Morris said. "They're just letting the oil burn off at this point."
By evening, fearing toxic smoke, local officials were urging the entire town to evacuate, as well as residents five miles to the south and east. People said police were driving through the streets urging them to leave.
"Casselton the new ground zero. Police evacuating people," one resident tweeted.
"The world is going to end!" another added. "The WHOLE town of Casselton is getting evacuated because a train blew up."
The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators were set to arrive in North Dakota on Tuesday morning.
The crash is the fourth serious accident this year involving trains hauling crude in North America.
In July, an unattended train with 72 tank cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale fields rolled downhill and set off an explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing more than 40 people.
Two other accidents followed, though neither involved fatalities.
The accidents have highlighted the growing reliance on rail to move oil as production surges from new fields in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado.
U.S. railroads are moving 25 times more crude than they did in 2008, often in trains with more than 100 tank cars that each carry 30,000 gallons.
In the aftermath of the previous accidents, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order that tightened operating rules on carrying crude, prohibiting operators from leaving crude trains unattended without getting prior regulatory approval.
Separately, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began steps to improve the safety of tank cars.
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