CANNON FALLS -- A railcar holding molasses exploded, spewing a sticky mess and damaging property at Progressive Rail on Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

Cannon Falls Fire Chief Mike Althoff said the plume cloud likely measured 400 feet into the air. The molasses traveled over a mile-and-a-half west, crossing Highway 52.

His department received a call at 7:03 a.m. saying a railcar was overheating. Minutes later, a caller said the railcar had exploded at 1022 N. Fifth St.

Progressive Rail is north of the Cannon River at 1022 N. Fifth St., Cannon Falls, Minn. Google map
Progressive Rail is north of the Cannon River at 1022 N. Fifth St., Cannon Falls, Minn. Google map

Progressive Rail already had evacuated employees and the police department noted that no one was injured.

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Cannon Falls Ambulance, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol also responded to the scene. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and the Pollution Control Agency were consulted.

The PCA took over cleanup efforts, seeking to protect the Cannon River and groundwater.

Molasses is a byproduct of sugar processing. In addition to its use in the kitchen and as an animal feed, molasses is a binding agent for industrial products. It is used in road de-icing, ethanol production and pharmaceuticals, according to sugar.org.

Althoff said the investigation into why the railcar exploded would start Wednesday.

Vehicles left tire tracks March 23, 2021, after molasses from an exploding railcar came down on streets near Progressive Rail in Cannon Falls. Scott Sabelko / O'Rourke Media Group
Vehicles left tire tracks March 23, 2021, after molasses from an exploding railcar came down on streets near Progressive Rail in Cannon Falls. Scott Sabelko / O'Rourke Media Group