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California rail fire forces evacuations

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Crews worked on Wednesday to drain propane from a rail tank car that has been burning in a Northern California city for nearly 24 hours, forcing the evacuation of 4,800 homes and businesses.

Crews have been pouring water on the burning tank car since it caught fire on Tuesday afternoon to reduce internal pressure in the tank that could cause it to explode.

"The Lincoln tank fire is still considered an unstable situation and the evacuation consisting of a 1-mile radius is still in place," a Lincoln police spokeswoman said in a recorded message on Wednesday morning.

Officials said they hoped to have the fire, which started when the tank car was being inspected, to be extinguished by Thursday morning.

The so-called "hot tap" draining process involves attaching a pipe to the 29,000-gallon tanker to siphon propane into a nearby pond, where it would be burned off safely, the city of Lincoln said in a written statement.

According to the statement, the operation was being carried out under the supervision of a team of experts brought in from Texas.

Schools and Lincoln City Hall were scheduled to remain closed for the rest of the week.

Evacuees have been given shelter at three area facilities staffed by the Red Cross and Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Witt advised residents to stay out of the area.

"If the professionals are not there, then you shouldn't be," Witt said in the statement.

(Reporting and writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)