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Canadian Tanker-Train Probe Eyes Earlier Fire

Remains of a home lie in rubble as firefighters continue working at scene of a train derailment, Lac Megantic, Quebec, July 7, 2013.
Canadian investigators are looking at what role an earlier fire might have played in the derailment of an oil tanker train and deadly explosions in a small Quebec town last week.

Canadian transportation safety official Donald Ross said the earlier fire in one of the train's five locomotives is the "focal point" of the investigation. The fire, quickly doused by firefighters, occurred after the train's engineer parked the train late Friday outside Lac Megantic and set its brakes.

The chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic rail line, Ed Burkhardt, said the firefighters, in extinguishing the small blaze, also shut down the first locomotive's engines, releasing its brakes.

Burkhardt said that is what led to the disaster.

The train started to roll downhill toward the lakeside town, derailing on a curve and setting off massive explosions. The death toll stands at 13, with another 37 people missing. Much of Lac Megantic's downtown area was flattened as several tanker cars erupted in towering flames.

Ross outlined the sequence of events, saying there was about an hour between the time the locomotive's engine was shut down and the train started to move again.

"The engine was shut down at about midnight," he said. "The fire was extinguished. And the train starts to move at approximately 00:56, after midnight, after the crew and the MMA employee left."

Authorities on Tuesday said about 1,200 of the 2,000 people evacuated in the disaster may return home.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.