DERAILMENT: 5-mile shelter-in-place order lifted - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DERAILMENT: 5-mile shelter-in-place order lifted; evacuation still in place

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Thursday afternoon, officials lifted the "shelter in place" order that was given for a five-mile radius around the site of a train derailment and subsequent fire in southwest Jefferson County.

The shelter in place order asked residents to stay in their homes with ventilation turned off and all doors and windows closed.

An evacuation of residents within 1.2 miles of the derailment site remains in effect, despite the fact that officials now characterize the fire as a "controlled burn."

Classes will resume Friday at Frost Middle and Watson Lane Elementary.

Meanwhile, Nichols Elementary School will remain closed on Friday.  Teachers and staff are to report to Bullitt Lick Middle School.

John Roberts, Communications Director for Bullitt County Schools, released a statement saying in part, "We understand that many people need child care, or do not want to leave their children in an area that has the potential of becoming hazardous. BCPS will provide free child care tomorrow for Nichols students at Bullitt Lick Middle School. Parents may drop students off at BLMS in Shepherdsville at normal Nichols start time and will need to pick them up at the end of the school day. Transportation will not be provided.

"Middle and high school bus runs will operate on normal schedule tomorrow.

"The state will determine if the day must be made up. If so, it will be at the end of the school year."

Emergency officials have gathered at a temporary command center at the PRP Fire Station as they work to get Monday's train derailment near West Point cleaned up.

That cleanup effort suffered a setback Wednesday when a contractor's blowtorch sparked an explosion and fire. At least five workers were injured, including one person who suffered burns over 90 percent of his body.

The fire was still burning Thursday afternoon, but we're told crews have it under control. We're told the evacuation order and shelter in place order won't be lifted until at least Friday or possibly later.

Officials are very hesitant about giving any kind of timeline after they were given what they called "misinformation" Wednesday on how long that fire will be burning.

"We report what people tell us," said Emergency Management Director Doug Hamilton. "Sometimes that information is not correct. Sometimes it is false. And so the information that we had initially doesn't give us any confidence to give you an idea as to when it may end."

Later Thursday, P & L Railway spokesman Gerald Gupton acknowledged that crews on Wednesday ahd received information that air readings near the crash site showed little to no chemicals, so a worker fired up a torch.  That in turn sparked the explosion and fire.

Gupton called it "an accident."

Early Thursday afternoon, members of a recon team of about 20 firefighters and six railroad specialists suited up in hazmat gear while gathering information about what they're dealing with concerning a fire sparked by the chemical butadiene leaking from one of the derailed cars that continues to burn. At this point, their strategy is to allow the chemical to burn off.

They also hope to get a better idea of just how much of the chemical was in the car, after they received incorrect information on Wednesday.

The first broke out around 1 p.m. Wednesday after contractors using a blowtorch to separate the derailed cars ignited the chemical.

Officials say their main concern is the stability of two other derailed cars containing hydrogen fluoride that are near the fire.

"The issue that is most critical to us still are the hydrogen fluoride cars. That is the greatest risk to the community. Keeping them cool throughout the night, keeping any fire from impinging them was the primary fire objective. And that's what is continuing -- allowing the butadiene fire to burn out without heating up any of the tanks that are around it."

The effects of hydrogen fluoride can be harmful to humans and pets.

"Hydrogen fluoride is a corrosive gas," said Art Smith with the Environmental Projection Agency. "Its properties are such that it would attack any moist areas, so your skin, mucus membranes -- and it does so aggressively. It's one of the more corrosive industrial gases."

Because of the extreme danger involved with the chemical, fire officials have kept a steady blast of water aimed at the tank.

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