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Lambert defended the fire department, saying that the blaze was extinguished within about 45 minutes and that’s when firefighters’ involvement ended.
"The people from MMA told us, ‘That’s great — the train is secure, there’s no more fire, there’s nothing anymore, there’s no more danger,’" Lambert said. "We were given our leave, and we left."
Transportation Safety Board investigator Donald Ross said the locomotive’s black box has been recovered.
"The extent to which (the fire) played into the sequences of events is a focal point of our investigation," Ross said, but he cautioned that the investigation was still in its early stages.
The accident has thrown a spotlight on MMA’s safety record.
Before the Lac-Megantic accident, the company had 34 derailments since 2003, five of them resulting in damage of more than $100,000, according to the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration.
Burkhardt said the figures were misleading.
"This is the only significant mainline derailment this company has had in the last 10 years. We’ve had, like most railroads, a number of smallish incidents, usually involving accidents in yard trackage and industry trackage," he told the CBC.
The tanker cars involved in the crash were the DOT-111 type — a staple of the American freight rail fleet whose flaws have been noted as far back as a 1991 safety study. Experts say the DOT-111’s steel shell is so thin that it is prone to puncture in an accident, potentially spilling cargo that can catch fire, explode or contaminate the environment.
The derailment also raised questions about the safety of Canada’s growing practice of transporting oil by train, and is sure to bolster the case for a proposed oil pipeline running from Canada across the U.S. — a project that Canadian officials badly want.
Efforts continued Tuesday to stop waves of crude oil spilled in the disaster from reaching the St. Lawrence River, the backbone of the province’s water supply. Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet said those chances were "very slim" but not impossible.
Also Tuesday, Lac-Megantic’s mayor said that about 1,200 residents were being allowed to return to their homes.
Associated Press writers Rob Gillies and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto, Jason Keyser in Chicago James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D., contributed to this story.
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