MIAMISBURG, Ohio (WDTN) – A recent train derailment sent 27 railcars off the track in Clark County. Thankfully, no one was injured in the accident, but the same can’t be said for a similar incident in the Miami Valley decades ago.

Come with us to 1986, when a train went off the tracks in Miamisburg, forcing thousands out of their homes.

It was just before 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8 when a 15-car CSX Transportation Co. train carrying white phosphorus, among other materials suddenly derailed. Six cars pile up on a bridge over Bear Creek and one car ruptured, exposing its extremely volatile cargo to the air.

Phosphorus instantly burns when exposed to the air, and with 12,000 gallons of it on board, the fire would have enough fuel to burn for days.

For now, the fire was sending a plume of phosphoric acid into the air. The Associated Press reported that an estimated 17,500 people were forced to evacuate their homes in parts of Miamisburg, West Carrollton and Moraine.

Wednesday, July 9, 1986

Residents began to return home, or so they thought. Plans were made to try a new foam, but it would take around 12 hours to arrive, the official report said.

As firefighters continued to fight the blaze, a portion of the bridge broke and the car shifted and ruptured a second time, reigniting the phosphorus and sending another plume of dangerous smoke into the air.

The entire city of Miamisburg and several other nearby areas were forced to evacuate in what was, at the time, the largest evacuation in history due to a train accident. The Associated Press reported that, in only a few hours, between 25,000 and 40,000 people were displaced that night.

The University of Dayton Arena was briefly turned into a temporary shelter, but due to the lack of air conditioning, was deemed unlivable. The report said that instead, shelters were opened at Miamisburg High School, West Carrolton High School and the Dayton Convention Center.

Crews let the fire burn overnight while water cannons continued to spray water on the car and the plume of smoke.

Thursday, July 10, 1986

On Thursday, the lawsuits began.

The Associated Press reported that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of four residents who charged the railroad with negligence and operating at excessive speed. Later on, investigation showed that excessive speed had not been a factor in the crash, and that the crew was not at fault. Another lawsuit would be filed the next day.

Most people were finally allowed to return home that evening, as the winds were no longer blowing dangerous materials near residential areas. Two square miles of Miamisburg were blocked off, and the Associated Press said that approximately 300 families were moved to the Miamisburg High School.

The report explains that the area was split into three zones: A Caution Zone, Irritant Zone and Restricted Zone. Citizens in the caution zone and irritant zone could return home, but those in the irritant zone were recommended to stay away for the time being. No one was allowed to return to the restricted zone without authorization.

Six hospitals in the area reported they were treating over 400 cases of shortness of breath, irritated eyes or sore throats from the fire.

Still, many people returned to their homes.

″I snuck back in; I didn’t have any other place to go,″ said Vic Blankenship, who owned a used appliance store in Miamisburg and lived above it. ″The rest of the places are all sleep-on-the-floor, and I wasn’t going to do that.″

On Thursday afternoon, crews opened the sides of the flaming tanker to accelerate the burn. In spite of the resulting cloud of smoke, the report said no extra evacuations were ordered.

At this time, a formal Emergency Operations Center was finally set up in the Miamisburg Civic Center.

Friday, July 11, 1986

Four days in, the fire still raged inside the tanker. As a thunderstorm rumbled overhead, crews worked to pull the car approximately 35 ft into a pit lined with wet sand. As soon as the car was level, the phosphorus spread out and burned even faster as more of the material was exposed to the air.

″Once it leveled, the product immediately came to the front and it began to start glowing,″ said Dale Hawk, CSX Western Division manager. 

At this time, the Associated Press reported that approximately 100 people remained in the Miamisburg High School.

According to the Associated Press, an additional $250 million class-action lawsuit on behalf of the evacuees was filed against CSX, Erco Co. of Canada, which manufactured the phosphorus, and Allbright & Wilson, a company that was planning to use the phosphorus to make phosphoric acid at its Fernald plant.

By the end of the incident, a total of $450 million in lawsuits would be filed.

Saturday, July 12, 1986

The fire had finally run its course.

The report explains that crews noticed up to four inches of some form of “mud” in the bottom of the car. Crews put a hose in the car and flooded the remaining phosphorus, extinguishing the fire.

The all-clear was not given until 1:15 that afternoon when the car had stabilized in another location. it would still take several days to cool.

The report said that the initial investigation showed the summer heat had caused the track to spread laterally, and a lack of spacer joints meant the weight of the train pushed the rails sideways, causing the cars to tumble off the track.