North Platte Fire Chief discusses response to railcar explosion

A Union Pacific Railcar carrying toxic chemicals explodes in Lincoln County, residents in the area report thinking something had fallen on their home
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 10:32 AM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Lincoln County residents were forced to evacuate due to an explosion that occurred at Bailey Yard on Thursday afternoon.

City of North Platte Fire Chief Dennis Thompson said the explosion was reported at 12:03 p.m. and fire crews from all three North Platte Fire Stations responded to the scene within six minutes.

Chief Thompson says that upon arrival, crews proceeded with the utmost of caution, as contaminants of the exploded railcar were unknown at first. They soon learned the container that exploded contained a toxic chemical called perchloric acid.

“I certainly won’t go into a lot of details as I’m not a chemist, but I can tell you that it is certainly hazardous material, and can be harmful if mishandled or if it leaves its container in a way that it is not supposed to, such as an explosion,” Chief Thompson said. “The chemical is an inhalant hazard and hazardous if it comes in to contact with skin,” Thompson said.

Highway 30 between North Platte and Hershey was closed for a large portion of Thursday afternoon and evacuations were in effect for a while and even expanded into the City of North Platte.

“We are always going to air on the side of caution, we will even go beyond that. The chemical manufacturer told us that this product can be dangerous to life, health, and, safety at these distances. We chose initially based on those recommendations and other resources we have to do a three-quarter-mile evacuation. At first, conditions were such that to product was being carried by the wind toward the north and we evacuated accordingly. However, as winds shifted the evacuation radius changed always extending into portions of the City of North Platte,” Thompson added.

A train car burns, releasing toxic material into the air and forcing evacuations on the West side of North Platte Thursday

The first evacuation notice was issued shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon and included residences in the area of Splinter Road and Front Street and North of the railroad up to one mile. Just before 2:30, the evacuation extended between Homestead Road and Front Street between Highway 30 and West A Street. Evacuations were lifted around 5:20 p.m. Thursday, according to the North Platte / Lincoln County Rave 911 Emergency Alert System.

Chief Thompson assured the public that the situation would be monitored by officials as the evening progressed. “We have Haz-Mat Inc. on scene providing containment should any of this product get on the ground we want to be very aware of our environment and waterways out in that area. We’ll be on the scene as long as it takes to ensure this situation does not escalate in any way,” Thompson said.

“We want to make sure our public and our community know what is happening, we are never going to hide anything from them, we are all in this together. I appreciate the cooperation with the many partner agencies that were involved,” Thompson concluded.

In speaking with those in the region when the explosion occurred, some around one to two miles north of the incident reported thinking something had fallen on top of their home. They said their house began to shake and windows rattled. Another person down the road was working with their hired man when they heard the explosion and ran toward the sound to see what happened. Upon seeing the large amount of smoke and detecting a foul odor, they ventured into North Platte and waited until receiving the all-clear from officials before returning.

Potentially toxic smoke billows from a railcar on fire in North Platte.