Residents return home as ND oil fire is quelled; train firm 'regrets inconvenience'

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Residents of Heimdal, North Dakota, have been allowed back to their homes as fire crews got the fiery blaze caused when an oil train derailed Wednesday morning under control.

The Forum News Service reports those evacuated returned to their homes after 9 p.m. Wednesday when firefighters determined no crude oil was burning and the air quality in the area was safe.

The BNSF train carrying 107 cars of crude oil derailed at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, between six and 10 cars caught fire, which sent black smoke billowing into the air.

A statement from the BNSF said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating how the derailment occurred, and local first respondents and BNSF officials remain on the scene.

"We are thankful there are no injuries and regret the inconvenience this incident has caused local residents," the statement said. "BNSF has established a claims center in the area to assist those who evacuated."

Those living in Heimdal, about a half a mile from the crash site, were given little time to respond to the incident, with retired sheriff Curt Benson telling The Associated Press he was getting dressed when the train crashed.

"I got in my car, still in my underwear, had shaving cream on my face, and drove down there," he said.

His wife, Lenore, told the Bismarck Times she would prefer to see an oil pipeline in place to ease train traffic, otherwise she fears the accidents will continue.

"Someone's going to get hurt; it's just a matter of time," she told the newspaper.

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Oil train safety argument renewed

The cars that derailed are the same as those federal authorities are demanding be urgently replaced over the next five years amid safety concerns.

This has has brought the issue of oil train safety back to the forefront, with lawmakers calling for immediate safety improvements on trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken fields.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., called on the Department of Transportation Thursday to make stricter laws that would make oil train operators responsible for disclosing more information to first responders and the wider public about rail movements.

"We call upon you to issue an Emergency Order that improves the process for providing detailed information on crude-by-rail movements and volumes to first responders, shifts the onus for information sharing onto the railroads and not communities, and allows for the continued public availability of broader crude-by-rail data on movements and routes," he said in a news release.

Around 50 trains carrying Bakken oil pass through Minnesota every week.

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