UPDATED: 1/6/2012 3:15 p.m.

PORTER COUNTY, Ind. (CBS) — Three freight trains collided Friday afternoon in Northwest Indiana, just east of Valparaiso, causing a massive chain reaction derailment and a fire that burned into the evening.

Three trains were involved in the crash on the CSX rail line that runs from Chicago to New York. The first train stopped for an emergency, and a second train slowed but still hit the first train. A third train then plowed into the first two, apparently unaware of crash.

“Up close, it looks to me like a child took his model railroad and piled them all up in a huge pile, three or four high,” said Jim Sherrick, who works for Porter County’s emergency management agency.

Two train crew members were treated and later released at nearby Porter Hospital.

The lingering fire was caused by diesel fuel from the engines, Porter County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Grennes said.

The crash happened around 1:20 p.m. at County Road 500 East and 600 North in Liberty Twp. near the town of Westville. That’s located about four or five miles northeast of downtown Valparaiso.

The area is largely rural although there are some homes nearby. Authorities are reportedly closed down roads near the crash scene.

Phil Griffith, director of the Porter County Emergency Management Agency,  said that eight homes, all located within half a mile of the crash site, were evacuated because of flammable liquids aboard three derailed cars.  He said that a number of other tank cars were empty, although firefighters and hazardous materials teams treated them with care because even “empty” 88,000 gallon tank cars could have “a couple of hundred” gallons remaining in them.

The accident was about two miles away from a school with about 600 kids, officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

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