Before a 73 car runaway train derailed in Lac-Megantic and exploded, a fire was put out in one of its engines.
The Nantes fire service told Reuters it had put out an engine fire in one of the locomotives late on Friday.
The driverless train rolled eight miles downhill from Nantes, until it derailed in the center of the small town of 6,000 people. Five people are dead, and 40 are still missing.
Andre Gendron is a 38 year old man who lived near Nantes. He was burning a campfire near his trailer, when he heard the fire engines. About five minutes later, he felt the rumbling of a moving train.
“About five minutes after the firemen left, I felt the vibration of a train moving down the track. I then saw the train move by without its lights on,” Gendron told Reuters.
“I found it strange its lights weren’t on and thought it was an electrical problem on board. It wasn’t long after that I heard the explosion. I could see the light from the fires in Lac Megantic.”
Much of the centralized area of the explosion has yet to be examined, it’s simply too dangerous. The fire from the crude oil burned extremely hot, and the black smoke was caustic.
“It’s an area that is still extremely risky… The fire service decided they could not allow us to go there for security reasons. We’ll see what we can do today,” police spokesman Benoit Richard told reporters on Monday.
Nantes fire chief, Patrick Lambert, said he and his crew had switched off the engine before extinguishing the fire. He said that was standard procedure so that fuel could not circle back into the blaze. He said: it was a “good-sized blaze in the motor, probably caused by a fuel or oil line break in the engine.”
The train company’s chairman said that the brakes do not work when the engines are not running.
“If the operating locomotive is shut down, there’s nothing left to keep the brakes charged up, and the brake pressure will drop finally to the point where they can’t be held in place any longer,” Ed Burkhardt told the Toronto Star.
Investigators now have some understanding as to how the train became a runaway, and exploded in Lac-Megantic. An engine fire, eight miles uphill, voided the brakes, and allowed the cars filled with crude oil to rush downhill and cause the disaster.
Alfred James reporting