Twelve cars of a freight train derailed Saturday and struck a tank of diesel fuel that caught fire, forcing the evacuation of about 300 people, authorities said. No injuries were reported.

A 15-block downtown area was evacuated and traffic was rerouted around the town because of the fire and potential chemical hazards, said Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Jerry Reineke, who was acting as public information officer for the incident.The fire was extinguished late Saturday afternoon, and firefighters said they believed the evacuees would be able to return home late Saturday or early Sunday. The number of evacuees remained unclear, as Reineke and others at a command post gave out figures ranging from 200 to 1,000, with 300 the latest estimate.

The 113-car southbound train from Galesburg, Ill., to St. Louis derailed about 6:45 a.m., said Burlington Northern Railroad spokesman Brian Sweeney.

Several cars hit the diesel tank, knocking off a valve and allowing diesel fuel to spill, said Reineke. The spilled fuel and several rail cars carrying lumber products and piping caught fire, he said, but there was no explosion as authorities earlier reported.

The cars also damaged a grain elevator and a storage tank containing anhydrous ammonia, a potentially hazardous material, but that tank was not leaking.

A Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman said fire-fighters were letting the diesel fire burn itself out.

Missouri Highway 79 was blocked at the north and south edges of Elsberry, a town of about 1,900 about 50 miles northwest of St. Louis.

A cleanup crew and investigators were on the scene, Sweeney said. The cause of the derailment has not been determined.

The evacuees were taken to a church and a school.