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Crescent City Fire 1970 - Crescent City, IL
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
N 40° 46.205 W 087° 51.540
16T E 427505 N 4513589
Quick Description: On Father's Day, June 22, 1970, a train derailed in the small town of Crescent City, Illinois. Several tanker cars of propane exploded, destroying most of downtown and many homes. This memorial is beside Hwy 24 and the railroad.
Location: Illinois, United States
Date Posted: 7/5/2014 11:11:48 PM
Waymark Code: WMM23C
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member saopaulo1
Views: 1

Long Description:

From: GenDisasters :

Crescent City, IL Exploding Tank Cars, June 1970

Submitted by Stu Beitler on 25 May 2008 - 1:19pm


Crescent City, Ill. (UPI) -- Crescent city's 800 residents lived quietly 80 miles south of Chicago's Loop. Even their three-block business district had a low profile, as they say.

Today the town was empty, its people fled from a holocaust of flame and exploding gas. And the business district had an even lower profile. It was gone.

A 108-car Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad train rumbled through town Sunday morning. It derailed at about 6:15 a.m. Tank cars carrying liquid propane bumped along and began burning. About 7:30 a.m. an explosion involving three tank cars sent a fireball 1,000 feet above Crescent City.

In all, 12 tank cars exploded, destroying downtown and some 15 homes. At least 70 persons were injured and nine hospitalized. Damage was estimated at $2 million.

The first explosion blotted out the daylight with thick black smoke. Other explosions continued until 11 a.m. Two more tank cars continued burning early today, but officials said it did not appear they would explode.

Three-hundred firemen from about 40 surrounding communities rushed to Crescent City -- only to have to truck water in because the explosions demolished water and power lines. Many of the injured were firemen.

"It was a miracle nobody was killed," said Mayor HERBERT STERRENBERG, who estimated damage at least $2 million. "I just hope the railroad has lots of insurance."

The cause of the derailment was not officially given, but state police reported somebody sighting a "flaming hotbox" at Gilman, Ill., six miles west of Crescent City. Fire Department Capt. ORVEL CARLSON -- one of the nine persons hospitalized -- said he would check into a "possible violation" by the railroad for having tank cars carrying dangerous material hooked together instead of separated through the train.

ARMEN KORSTICK, photographer for the Kankakee Journal, was trying to photograph two firemen when a nearby tank car exploded.

"I felt like I was on fire. It was like standing in front of a bright red blow torch," KORSTICK said. He "just rolled and rolled" until he stopped behind a charred section of tank car.

KORSTICK was taken to the Crescent Hospital, about three miles from the scene. While he was looking back at the city, another tank car blew and another fireball rose. "It appeared to be that of an atom bomb," he said.

Sheboygan Journal Wisconsin 1970-06-22

From: The Chicago Tribune:

Crescent City Rekindles Memory Of Tragic Blaze

June 22, 1990|By Monica Copeland, Chicago Tribune.

CRESCENT CITY, ILL. ­ It was 20 years ago Thursday that a freight train carrying liquid propane gas derailed in this tiny farming community and a fire leveled its entire business district.

On Thursday in Artie's restaurant, the main lunchtime gathering spot in new Crescent City, about a dozen townsfolk got together to watch a film of the tragedy and share memories.

Just about all of them had lived through the ordeal. The three-block downtown area of this community has been transformed, but its people and its spirit have remained the same.

Just ask Jim Ward, the president of the Crescent City Board, who has lived in the same house for 23 years. It was spared in the fire.

Almost all the people whose homes were destroyed stayed in Crescent City and rebuilt their lives. Even the two fire trucks that fought the blaze 20 years ago are still in use.

Most of the 650 people living in this town 90 miles south of Chicago are retired or active farmers.

"Folks have a lot of roots here," Ward said. "I don`t see Crescent City changing much in the next 10 years."

That is, barring another blaze like the one on Father's Day, June 21, 1970.

The 6:20 a.m. freight train of the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad derailed in the heart of Crescent City. Five tank cars carrying the liquid propane gas ruptured and exploded. Explosions ripped through the city for hours and a blaze leveled the business district and destroyed 15 houses. Amazingly, no one died.

"It was like Hiroshima or Nagasaki on a smaller scale," said Ken Blanck.

Marie Dorsey, 81, who has lived in Crescent City 51 years, was up and dressed when she heard the explosion that morning.

"The good Lord was with us that day," she recalled. "It was just fire all over."

Lorenz Zummallen, 50, said that when he heard the explosions he was sure no one would come out alive. Zummallen was one of the 20 members of the volunteer fire department that fought the blaze.

"I didn't know whether to go to the fire or (run) the other way," Zummallen said.

"A mile away, the heat was so intense you could feel it through the windshield," said Gerald Lemenager, who has a farm a few miles north of town. A glass-encased memorial, barely 50 feet from the tracks, is full of faded pictures and yellowed news clippings. It is one of the few reminders of the disaster.

Inside the case, there are the photos of the 500-foot cloud of smoke that blocked out the sun and of a tanker sitting in what was left of Willis Thomas` house.

A newspaper clipping detailing Gov. Richard Ogilvie's tour of the disaster area and a picture of Fire Chief Orvel Carlson with his entire head bandaged-an injury from trying to evacuate people-chronicle the aftermath of the derailment.

It didn't take long to rebuild the town, according to residents. Some houses were rebuilt that same summer, Blanck said.

And since no one died, some of the residents say the fire may have been, in a way, a blessing.

New brick stores and a parking lot have sprung up to replace the old businesses destroyed by the fire.

Mel's Village Market, C.C. Video and the First Trust & Savings Bank of Crescent City have replaced John Kuhlman's bowling alley and Ab Richard's grocery.

"We lost old buildings, but we've really got a nicer town now," said Edward Post, 78, a retired farmer.

"We probably have the nicest business district of any town our size in Illinois, thanks to state and federal funding," Ward said.

From: Ideals

CRESCENT CITY TRAIN DERAILMENT: JUNE 21, 1970 Shortly after 6:30 AM on Sunday, June 21, 1970, fifteen cars from a 108-car freight train on the Toledo, Peoria, and Western Railroad derailed in Crescent City, Illinois. The first five cars that went off the tracks contained stable freight, including sand and paper, but the other ten cars each carried about 34,000 gallons of propane. Several of the gas tanks exploded immediately after the derailment, erupting into flames that instantly engulfed part of the town and reached several hundred feet in the air.

Crescent City Fire Chief Orvel Carlson was awake at the time of the crash and felt the heat of the explosion from his home three blocks away. Carlson and the 20-man volunteer fire department responded quickly with their two pieces of fire fighting apparatus, but their efforts were impeded as the electricity that supplied the city water pumps had been knocked out of service by the crash. The firefighters instead obtained water from the city water tower and were successfully extinguishing the flames when, about one hour after the crash, a previously intact tank exploded. The blast threw part of the tank more than 600 feet and sent many of the nearest Crescent City firefighters to the hospital with burns and other injuries. By that point, however, more than 200 mutual aid responders from 35 communities were arriving in Crescent City, bringing dozens of pieces of fire fighting apparatus from as far as 40 miles away.

Throughout the morning, firefighters attacked the flames cautiously, wary of another tank explosion. This strategy proved to be a wise one because a second tank ruptured at 9:40 AM, launching a portion of the tank more than 1,600 feet. Five minutes later a third exploded, causing half of the tank to shoot through two houses and a cement-block garage before embedding itself in a third house. While the remaining tanks eventually ruptured and burned, none exploded as dramatically as the previous ones. On the advice of government officials, the unexploded tanks were allowed to continue burning until all the fuel was consumed.

The final propane fire burned out on June 23, more than fifty-six hours after the derailment. More than 60 firefighters and civilians were injured during the ordeal, but there were no deaths. A chemical engineer who investigated the derailment for the National Transportation Safety Board later reported that “responders were powerless” and that “something was amiss with the guidance offered these brave firefighters.” Experts believed it had been terribly risky for the firefighters to attempt to extinguish the flames using traditional methods and stated that the city was fortunate that dozens of lives were not lost, as the area should have been completely evacuated.

The reports on the Crescent City derailment helped the fire service recognize that incidents involving liquefied petroleum and other hazardous materials required special tactics and training. The fire profession soon initiated an earnest examination of these issues and began developing modern hazardous materials response methods.

Adam Groves, 2006

From: Dimm View Blog:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


On June 21, 1970, in Crescent City, Illinois, there was a train accident. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, discusses it in a section titled “List of Rail Accidents”. It states “Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad Company's Train No. 20 derails in downtown Crescent City; propane tank car ruptures and explosions cause fires that destroy the city center. No fatalities.” That is a nice concise description, but it hardly scratches the surface of what went on that day.

Shortly after dawn, a young girl was delivering the Daily Journal newspaper to area residents. She heard the accident, but was busy with her task at hand. Suddenly, she felt heat. The heat was so strong that in began to burn her clothes.

The train had been heading east across central Illinois. It was powered by four locomotives and carried 109 cars. According to a study by Marvin Resnikoff for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office, a motorist spotted smoke coming from one of the train cars approximately ten miles west of Crescent City. Nothing is reported about whether the motorist contacted anyone and, with the train traveling over forty miles per hour, there certainly would not have been time to act.

The original derailment was recorded at 6:30 A.M. Of those attached cars, fifteen came off the tracks. Of those fifteen were nine tanker cars contained liquefied petroleum gas. One of the train cars sheared a nearby power pole causing electrical service to be cut off. The young girl’s father rushed her to nearby Watseka Memorial Hospital. There she was treated for first and second degree burns.

Fire fighters arrived and were trying to contain the fire which was burning intensely. Fire companies from 32 surrounding towns, including Paxton and Buckley appeared with 53 pieces of equipment. 234 firemen were on the scene.

Chanute Air Force in Rantoul sent a foam truck. They informed the local fire fighters that water would be unable to contain such a fire that including burning propane.

Shortly after 9:30 A.M., three hours after the derailment, two tanker cars exploded. One reported traveled over 200 yards as a result tearing apart many downtown businesses... Just before 11:00 A.M., a third exploded as well.

The fires burned until 9:00 P.M. Monday night. In all sixty-six people were injured, sixteen businesses were destroyed, seven others were damaged and twenty-five homes were destroyed.

Amazingly, there is video. When the accident occurred, news media made a beeline for the little town in Iroquois County. Someone who brought a camera was somehow able to record the damage of the initial accident received an added bonus of additional carnage.

Thirty-six years hasn’t dulled the memory of the residents of the area. If you bring it up to anyone fifty or older, they will recreate their experience of the day from the moment they opened their eyes in the morning until long after the sun set. Some even will get a little teary eyed remembering the hardships that followed and the struggle to rebuild a town that had buildings, and a reputation, badly damaged.

It seemed that everyone within a one hundred mile radius was aware and came to see the damage. Weeks later, people gathered in the bleachers of a crowded Crescent City High School gymnasium while the video was shown on a not-so-large screen. It was exciting to see the fire rise into the sky, not unlike pictures you see of the atom bomb being dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Someone with somber tone spoke about the horrible tragedy that befell the residents of Crescent City, Illinois.

If you ever drive through “Crescent”, as many Iroquois County residents call it today, you will see a sign directing you to a landmark. The landmark offers still pictures and a brief description of the events thirty-six years old. As you pass, you may not be able to recognize what happened years before, but to those who remember, the changes are obvious.

On the north side of the Route 24, there are very few businesses standing, even today. There is a basketball court and the landmark, but very few buildings. On the south side of Route 24, where once stood three story row buildings as you see in many small Iroquois County towns, is the equivalent of a strip mall, housing a bank, and dentist’s office and other small businesses. The great train fire of 1970 is Crescent City, Illinois’ claim to fame. No one living there will ever forget Father’s Day that year.

In parts of the world far away, I wish that for them. I hope and pray they have a day like June 22, 1970 where they can stop worrying about any more destruction and begin to think about getting through the next day.

Type of Structure: Private Building

Fire Date: 6/21/1970

Structure status: Plaque

Cause of Fire:
Train derailment and explosion of propane tanker cars

Documentation of the fire: [Web Link]

Other: Not listed

Construction Date: Not listed

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