According to the Plains-Paradise Rural Fire District, the derailment occurred at around 9 a.m., and it poses "no current threat to public safety and no hazardous materials being released." (Related: IT KEEPS HAPPENING: Tanker carrying thousands of gallons of propane fuel FLIPS OVER in Florida train derailment.)
Montana Rail Link (MRL), operator of the derailed train, said the freight train was traveling westbound when the incident occurred. The company supported the fire district's claim that the derailment caused "no injuries, no risk to public safety and no hazmat release."
"The cause of the derailment is currently under investigation with MRL personnel and first responders," the company said, adding that it was "committed to addressing any impacts to the area as a result of this accident, prioritizing the safety of our employees and the public, and understanding the reasons for this incident."
Photographs of the incident show several train cars falling into the Clark Fork River, with products spilling out. The fire district claims the rail cars that fell into the river were mostly empty, but some were carrying powdered clay or cases of beer products – specifically, Coors Light and Blue Moon Belgian White. The fire district said the products were "secured in the derailment area" and were prevented from "floating down the river."
Despite claiming there was no threat to the public, the fire district still ordered the evacuation of guests staying at waterfront cabins near the derailment site.
Crews are expected to face a very difficult cleanup task following the 25-car derailment. Bill Naegeli, manager for Sanders Country Disaster and Emergency Services, noted how the site of the derailment – near a narrow, century-old tunnel with limited access – makes the county's job much harder.
"It's a terrible spot to get in and out of," said Naegeli. "The biggest issue is the cars derailed inside the tunnel" with little clearance. He added that seven cars are believed derailed in the narrow tunnel, and the main job will be to make sure these railcars are extricated soon with as little additional damage done to the rail line as possible.
Naegeli added that one tanker car carrying butane also derailed. This contradicts the fire district's statement that no hazardous materials were involved in the incident.
MRL claimed the car carrying butane was only "partially off the tracks, but not leaking," and the fire district confirmed that "visual inspection and utilizing a gas meter did not detect any leaks."
Emergency services have deployed a boom across the river to secure any beer products like cans or bottles that entered the water. They are also monitoring for any possible diesel impacts after some fuel spilled onto the dirt from two refrigerator cars that derailed.
"MRL has been in communication with both local and federal authorities and will conduct any necessary site remediation, including impacted soil removal in coordination with DEQ," said Garland.
"Over the following days and weeks, we will be working with MRL while they clean up and rebuild the track," said the fire district. "If there is ever a new threat to public safety, we will be on scene and coordinating directly with the incident staff and Quinn's Hot Springs."
Quinn's Hot Springs is a resort right across from where the incident occurred. Denise Moreth, the resort's general manager, told local newspaper the Missoulian that front desk workers at the time heard a "loud, rumbling crash, and then they heard the train derailment."
For more stories about train derailments, visit Chaos.news.
Watch this clip discussing how the train derailment in Montana may have caused an "unknown red substance" to leak into the Clark Fork River, which empties into Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho.