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Kentucky Train Derailment Triggers Chemical Fire, Forces Evacuation

[For ongoing coverage, see Louisville Public Media's live-blogging.]

A train derailment outside Louisville, Ky., became much more dangerous on Wednesday when workers trying to free rail cars triggered a fire that left three people severely burned. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports the cars left the tracks on Monday; people were briefly evacuated because of the toxic chemicals they contained.

Initially, residents of West Point, a small Louisville suburb, were able to go home after hazardous materials crews began cleaning up and looking for the derailment's cause. But Wednesday afternoon, something else went wrong - the Courier-Journal reports some of the workers were using a blowtorch during their cleanup work, and one of the rail cars caught fire.

Lt. Col. Rick Harrison of the nearby Buechel Fire Department said "the workers that are here are highly trained and this is one of those freak accidents that occurs, unfortunately," according to the AP.

But Louisville Emergency Management Director Doug Hamilton told WDRB-TV he didn't have enough information to explain why workers were using a blowtorch near flammable chemicals. The injured workers reportedly have life-threatening burns.

Two miles of the Ohio River are closed. Hundreds of people remain out of their homes as emergency personnel continue to douse the flames. Kentucky emergency management workers plan to let the fire in the damaged rail car burn out because it's also burning up dangerous gas vapors. And there are several more cars with toxic chemicals inside that must be cleared. Until it's safe to return, the town of West Point remains evacuated, and anyone within a five mile radius of the fire is asked to stay inside with doors and windows closed.

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