CROFTON, KY., (THURSDAY) JUNE 23 -- A tanker car on a derailed freight train erupted in flames Wednesday night, spewing a giant plume of "extremely toxic" phosphorus fumes that stretched 30 miles and forced thousands of people to flee towns in five counties.

Truckers who drove through the toxic cloud and deputy sheriffs who went door-to-door to evacuate residents reported irritated eyes and breathing difficulties, but officials said the accident had caused no serious injuries by early today.

Thirty-two cars of the 80-car CSX train derailed about 7 p.m. Wednesday in Christian County 3 1/2 miles north of Crofton, igniting one tank car, the only one carrying phosphorus, a chemical used in military explosives, said Don Armstrong, spokesman for the state Disaster and Emergency Services Division in Frankfort.

"It's a plume that stretches about 30 miles and is traveling northeast 3,000 feet in the air," Armstrong said early today. "Phosphorus fumes are extremely toxic. It's very, very dangerous. It's toxic to inhale and it burns the skin."

Towns in the path of the fumes in Christian, Ohio, Hopkins, Muhlenberg and McLean counties were evacuated, and state officials alerted Hancock and Breckinridge counties to prepare to evacuate residents, officials said. Authorities closed 50 mile stretches of both the Western Kentucky Parkway and the Green River Parkway.

Firefighters were letting the blaze burn itself out because of fears that water would create runoff that could contaminate drinking water supplies, said Alvin Pollard, assistant director of the Christian County emergency center in Hopkinsville.

"The fire is expected to burn well on into Thursday," Armstrong said. "We're trying to warn people ahead of the cloud. We'll keep watching it every minute from now on until it's dissipated."

Officials had no estimate of the total number of people forced to flee the toxic cloud, but Hopkins County Sheriff Beau Summers said 3,000 people were evacuated from parts of that county alone.