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ND town residents allowed to return home after train fire

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Officials said hundreds of residents of a small town in North Dakota can return to their homes as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, after a Monday train crash and fire prompted a voluntary evacuation.

Multiple health and environmental officials said the air quality is now safe for homeowners to return, Forum Communications reports.

Forum had reported that 65 percent of the 2,300 residents of Casselton fled in a voluntary evacuation following Monday's massive fire in the town about 25 miles west of Fargo. The evacuation came after a fireball erupted in a train derailment and collision.

Federal investigators were arriving Tuesday in the state to determine the cause of the crash.

A few train cars continued to burn on Tuesday and the Star Tribune reported that officials said they would be allowed to burn out.

The fire started Monday afternoon when a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed about a half-mile west of Casselton and slammed into an eastbound 109-car train carrying crude oil. Ten-plus oil cars caught fire and eventually exploded, leaving a thick cloud of black smoke billowing into the air.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the crash in his hometown of Casselton was a “huge accident” that could have been far worse, Forum reported.

WDAY reported that a team from the National Transportation Safety Board has arrived in North Dakota to begin the investigation of the incident.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army set up a shelter at Discovery Middle School in Fargo, where 17 people spent the night. The Star Tribune reported that nine of them remained there Tuesday morning. The Fargo Forum reports that residents have been offered use of the showers and other facilities at the two locations of the YMCA of Cass and Clay County.

Cass County officials had urged any residents within five miles of the town to leave their homes, based on information from the National Weather Service that indicated a high pressure system would push the plume of smoke down, increasing the potential health hazards.

The Star Tribune quoted the sheriff’s office, which said investigators from the Centers for Toxicology and Environmental determined the air quality is good but had yet to give the go-ahead for residents to return. FoxNews reported that health experts are testing air quality in the area.

No one was injured in the crash, and the cause remains unknown.

WDAY reports Casselton's mayor questions whether the safety of the trains transport. Ed McConnell said early Tuesday that dozens of people in the town of 2,400 could have been killed if the derailment had happened within city limits. He said it is time to "have a conversation" with federal lawmakers about the dangers of transporting oil by rail.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said she didn’t know the oil train’s destination or origin. BNSF personnel from across the nation also are arriving to assist.

The Perham Focus newspaper in northwestern Minnesota has a collection of photographs and multi-media content about the incident.

The last reported oil train derailment in North Dakota was Dec. 2, when nine empty oil tank cars derailed about 60 miles southeast of Minot. A train carrying crude from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch crashed and exploded in Quebec last summer, killing 47. North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S. Much of that crude is shipped by rail.

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