The insane photos from West Virginia’s oil fire

You have to see this to believe it.


Kevin Collier

Internet Culture

Published Feb 16, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 12:50 pm CDT

In a terrifying spectacle, a train in central West Virginia has derailed in the middle of a snowstorm, leaking crude oil into the state’s central river and creating a giant, sustained lake fire in the midst of the cold—captured, of course, by residents’ smartphones and quickly posted to Twitter.

Local news station WOWK reported that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had declared a state of emergency in both Fayette and Kanawha Counties and evacuated the tiny towns of Adena Village and Boomer Bottom.

According to the Charleston Gazette, the crash was a 109-car-CSX train carrying crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in Virginia. At least one car was reported leaking oil directly into the Kanawha River, and at least one house reportedly caught fire.

“I saw a plume, an inferno, a pillar, like something Biblical or wrath-of-God type stuff,” Boomer resident Charles Keenan told the Charleston Daily Mail. “I heard a big boom and a hiss, it was the fuel hissing, and then it went ‘boom,’ and I felt the heat. I was on Route 60, across the river, and I felt the heat and ran because I thought it was going to rain down.”

Barely a year earlier, another chemical spill affected the area, when an older Freedom Industries facility leaked the chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol into the Elk River, a tributary of the Kanawha, contaminating the household water supply for some 300,000 West Virginians. Six Freedom Industry employees, including four executives, were indicted for charges stemming from the leak.

There were no reported fatalities from the train derailment, but at least one CSX employee was treated for inhalation-related injury. CSX claimed on its Twitter account that it would put evacuated residents up in hotels for the night.

To put the size of the region’s corresponding snowstorm in perspective, a plow in St. Albans, 40 miles away, had overturned trying to cross railroad tracks.

Photo via WSAZ/Twitter

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*First Published: Feb 16, 2015, 9:35 pm CST