LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Flames from a derailed train car sent people rushing out of neighborhoods and an entire town near Louisville on Wednesday while firefighters tried to douse the chemical blaze that left three workers badly burned.
Some people forced from their homes faced a long night on cots in shelters set up after the blaze — sparked by a cutting torch that ignited leaking vapors — broke out shortly after 1 p.m.
Officials in West Point, a short distance from the fire, ordered its nearly 1,000 residents to get away from the flames and the potential health hazards posed by the burning chemicals.
About two dozen people took shelter Wednesday night at an elementary school.
Resident Lisa Johnson was wrapped in a blanket outside the school, where she was taking drags from a cigarette.
‘‘I put the grandkids in the car, forget their jackets and my jacket,’’ she said. ‘‘Hopefully we can go home soon. I need clothes, a coat, a shower.’’
Police, firefighters, and emergency workers went door to door to tell stunned residents to get out of town.
Another West Point resident, Steven White, said he fed his dog and then hit the road.
‘‘I hope we’re not here too long,’’ he said. ‘‘This is tough.’’
The town was part of an evacuation within a 1.2-mile radius of the fire.
The order also affected nearly 140 residences in southwest Louisville.
The blaze broke out while workers were using a cutting torch or welder to separate two of the cars that derailed Monday evening, said Lieutenant Colonel Rick Harrison, assistant chief with the suburban Buechel Fire Department.
‘‘Sparks ignited the vapor from the chemical itself,’’ Harrison said.
Flames and thick, black smoke spewed out between two train cars while fire hoses shot almost 2,000 gallons of water a minute at the blaze. Officials cut off access to the derailment site and the nearby communities.
The three workers suffered severe burns and were taken to University of Louisville hospital.
Authorities had not released their names but said one was in very critical condition, another in critical condition, and the third in serious condition. A previous briefing had the three in better condition.