Oil-train wreck heightens fire chiefs’ concerns

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Survey crews in boats look over tanker cars as workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Survey crews in boats look over tanker cars as workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Survey crews launch boats to look over tanker cars as workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire Wednesday along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Survey crews in boats look over tanker cars as workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden said state workers smelled oil downstream from the derailment site during a night-time survey. CSX crews and heavy equipment contractors worked to clear more than a dozen derailed train cars, some carrying crude oil. Two cranes were lifting derailed cars and moving them to a new track. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Across the state on the same rail line where a train loaded with highly combustible crude oil derailed, a fire chief sees the potential for a nightmare scenario: A blaze his crews don’t have the means to put out, threatening a colonial-era tourist attraction and one of the nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning.

No one was hurt or killed when a train derailed in Lynchburg, but emergency officials say it underscores the fact that many departments don’t have the resources to deal with such an accident along a busy route for hauling oil from the booming Bakken oil fields in the northern U.S. tier and Canada.

“It definitely raises concerns,” said Williamsburg Fire Chief William Dent. “We have some minimal resources here.”

The worst-case scenario for his department, Dent said, would be an oil-train derailment on a stretch of CSX track passing between the College of William & Mary and the popular Williamsburg historic area. Some buildings on both sides would have to be evacuated, and the department would have to call on neighboring localities for help responding to the disaster.

Lynchburg officials evacuated some buildings and let the fire burn out, but Richmond Fire Chief Robert Creecy said a more aggressive response would be required if an oil train plunged from the elevated CSX track dissecting Virginia’s capital. The track spans Interstate 95 and, like the stretch in Lynchburg, grazes the edge of James River.

Fred Millar, a consultant to localities and others on the rail transport of chemicals, said the possibility of an oil train plunging from Richmond’s elevated tracks was raised during a recent safety forum in Washington.

“Someone said it would be like a 747 crashing into your city,” Millar said.

Richard Edinger, assistant fire chief in the Richmond suburb of Chesterfield County, said no fire department except those at some refineries has sufficient equipment and materials to deal with exploding oil-filled tank cars.

Edinger, who also serves as vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Hazardous Materials Committee, said emergency responders have long been aware of the threat posed by the transport of crude oil.

“What’s new to this picture is the scale, the amount of product coming through,” he said. “That’s the game changer.”

Fire chiefs said firefighters receive training on responding to oil tanker fires — Williamsburg just conducted an exercise based on a simulated derailment of Bakken crude March 27, Dent said — but it hasn’t received any special emphasis.

“These are low-frequency, high-consequence incidents,” Edinger said. “When looking at all you need to purchase and train on, this is one of them but it doesn’t always make the highest priority.”

Across the country in Contra Costa County, California, officials demanded that an oil company chip in on preparedness when it proposed building a facility to offload Bakken crude shipped in by rail. Fire Marshal Robert Marshall said the company was told “we do not have the kind of equipment for that kind of risk.”

The county, which is near Oakland, asked the company for a fire truck with larger-capacity pump than would be required for a normal structure fire. The truck will be able to pump firefighting foam as well as water, Marshall said.

He said the area regularly gets high wind, so a fire from a Bakken oil train “would cause a significant problem for us.”

The Lynchburg derailment, the latest in a string of oil-train wrecks, has brought renewed demands that the Obama administration quickly tighten regulations governing the burgeoning practice of transporting highly combustible crude by rail. Some experts say stronger rules to head off a catastrophe are

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