March 7 (Reuters) - Firefighters on Saturday were still working to extinguish several blazes that erupted when a BNSF Railway train loaded with crude oil derailed two days ago in a rural area south of Galena, Illinois, a local official said.
The incident marked the latest in a series of derailments in North America involving trains hauling crude oil, heightening focus on rail safety.
Nobody was injured in the fiery Thursday wreck, in which 21 cars of a 105-car BNSF train that originated in North Dakota derailed about 3 miles outside Galena, a town of just over 3,000 near the border with Wisconsin.
Five of the 103 cars packed with Bakken crude oil caught fire, sending plumes of black smoke and fireballs over the area, city and company officials said.
By Saturday, several minor fires were still burning in the toppled cars but crews expected to extinguish the lingering blazes by later in the day, said Galena City Administrator Mark Moran.
Local, state and federal officials were on scene to assess damage and environmental contamination in the area, a heavily wooded region near where the Galena River meets the Mississippi River.
“We’re of course concerned over potential environmental impact,” Moran said. “BNSF said there’s no apparent groundwater impact and air quality tests are good,” he said.
BNSF, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, said in a statement on Friday that the cause of the derailment was under investigation.
The company also set up a claims center to help residents who may have incurred damage to their property or need temporary relocation.
“BNSF continues to take precautionary measures to protect the waterways in the area and continues to conduct air quality monitoring. BNSF will address any environmental impacts,” the statement said.
About 40 to 50 oil trains come through the region each week, local officials said.
The accident is just the latest involving oil trains in the United States and Canada, including the derailment early Saturday of a Canadian National Railway Co train.
The train went off the tracks in the Northern Ontario community of Gogama, with the crew reporting a fire but no injuries.
In 2013, 47 people were killed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded. The last incident was just three weeks ago. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by James Dalgleish)