On Thursday, September 14 a mysterious explosion sent a huge shockwave through the town of North Platte, Nebraska. The blast originated at Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard before spreading to an intermodal container nearby filled with perchloric acid, a highly combustible chemical used in food and drug production.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered within one-mile of the fire, although it was later extended to four miles while authorities worked to contain the blaze and its toxic smoke plumes.
Gregg Robertson, a volunteer at the Golden Spike Tower located near the yard described what he saw during the incident: “I just saw something and I looked and it was just a big ball of flame. And then it was just fire, fire, fire, constant for 10, 12 minutes maybe.”
He went on to describe two different smoke plumes rising from the site – one black smoke and one orange – before concluding that there must have been some kind of chemical combustion occurring.
Local resident Charlie Morland also remarked how powerful the explosion had been: “It just shook the ground.You could feel it shake the vehicles and stuff.”
North Platte Fire Chief Dennis Thompson believes that this event could have gone much worse than it did; he said that when they left there were no injuries or significant damage reported.
Thompson believes that air pollution levels were not dangerous due to perchloric acid dissipating as it burned off but soil monitoring results are still pending.
However, these reports conflict with recent Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose letter to Union Pacific executives highlighting defects in freight cars locomotives in their railyard which posed a “significant risk to rail safety”.
In response UP has yet comment on their protocol for inspecting equipment or take steps towards improving conditions for their network employees.