Cleanup continues after train derailment in Lilburn sparks chemical fire

Investigators believe the heavy rains late Saturday night led to an early morning train derailment and chemical fire in Lilburn. CSX crews spent the Sunday evening cleaning up the major derailment after firefighters cleared the scene of any hazards.

It happened around 1:45 a.m. Sunday and sparked a chemical fire that forced the evacuation of a square mile along the track between Camp Creek Road SW and Harmony Grove Road. Lilburn police went door-to-door evacuating homes for several hours.

A pinkish-orange plume of smoke could be seen coming from the area of the fire.

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"It’s been very difficult to track which wind direction as we're dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Delta. So, we're constantly seeing wind directions change as we continue in this incident," Gwinnett County Fire Rescue’s Lt. Justin Wilson said about the challenge of the evacuation.

“We were just in panic mode and wasn’t sure what was going on,” Nearby Resident Jaquelyn Bustamante said.

“I’m baffled from it all. Just shaken. I’m literally still shaken,” Scott Donaghy said.

Drone video revealed the crisscrossed mess authorities will spend the next few days untangling after a washed-out track derailed 37 CSX rail cars and two CSX locomotives.

CSX officials confirmed at least two cars carried ethanol which leaked from the accident.  

“Most of those including the front section of the train including the locomotive, that an engineer and conductor were in, that did derail and go off the side of the embankment,” said Lt. Wilson.

Both the engineer and the conductor were not seriously injured in the “major” derailment. Both were able to walk away from the wreckage. Both were taken to an area hospital to be checked out just in case, a CSX spokesperson told FOX 5.

“It was like you could hear and see all the water. It was flooded and the train was flipped over,” Bustamante said.

CSX is blaming the heavy rainfall as bands from the remnants of Hurricane Delta passed over metro Atlanta on Saturday evening. Officials believe Camp Creek, which is located between the Camp Creek Greenway Trail and the railroad tracks in that area, overflowed its banks, leading to the derailment.

While fire officials gave an all-clear mid-morning for residents to return, there was a distinct odor in the air. Officials said environmental tests show no toxic levels above recommended levels in the area.

“We were really frightened and didn’t know where to go. You can’t go to your family at thee o’clock in the morning,” Donaghy said.

State and federal water management personnel will also be conducting tests to make sure none of the chemicals got into the creek or the runoff.

“It was super pungent. It gave me a headache. I still have a slight headache and hours later you can still smell it in the air now,” Donaghy said.

Lilburn police said they expect the greenway trail will be closed between Main Street and Harmony Grove Road for the next few days while the cleanup continues.

This was not the only issue caused by the overflow of Camp Creek. Firefighters in Gwinnett County shared a video of first responders rescuing a pair from inside a car in the middle of the flood along Hillcrest Road. Both are safe.

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