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Crews use a backhoe to dig through the rubble of the area where the Musi-Café was located in the centre of Lac-Mégantic, Que. July 8, 2013. As many as 40 people are still missing and authorities suspect the death toll will rise in the aftermath of Saturday's fiery train derailment.Moe Dorion/The Globe and Mail

A broken fuel line may be to blame for the late night locomotive fire that occurred shortly before a train barrelled into Lac-Mégantic, a spokesman from Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway says.

Yves Bourdon, who sits on the Maine-based company's board of directors, said the company has not been allowed to investigate the rail cars itself. But he said the local fire chief indicated that a fire that was reported at 11:30 p.m. on Friday seems to have been caused by a break in the train's fuel line.

"That's what the fire chief said. We haven't investigated … I have to go along with what the chief said," he said. Mr. Bourdon said it would not have been difficult for a fire to start if the locomotive fuel dripped onto the hot components while the locomotive was running.

"The motor is working, it's hot, and so it doesn't take much time before the fuel ignites, because it would touch the components," he said.

Lac-Mégantic mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said Monday afternoon she had a meeting with MMA managers.

"It was a satisfactory meeting but this being an initial occasion, we didn't go into details," she said, saying there would be more contacts with the company.

She declined to say if legal counsel were present.

MMA had been severely criticized in Quebec for its slow, reluctant public-relations handling of the crisis and had been accused of being uncaring. The company response was made worse when it sent out French statements that appeared Google-translated.

Officials also said they will release Tuesday a plan for a gradual return for most of the 1,500 people who had to flee their homes during the weekend.

A local resident called in a report about the fire at about 11:30 p.m., shortly after the company says the train's conductor left the train – with the engine running – and went to Lac-Mégantic for the night. Firefighters arrived at the scene within seven minutes and had extinguished the fire by midnight, Nantes fire chief Patrick Lambert said on Sunday.

Mr. Bourdon, who is from Montreal but serving as the company's representative in Lac-Mégantic, said a track repair worker was called to the scene of the fire and was still there after firefighters left. "He was the last one to see the train."

"After everything, after the firefighters left, then he looked around and I understand he left. He advised the dispatcher and that was the end of it, for him, and he left," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't know what exactly happened, but the train went down the hill."

Mr. Bourdon said the track worker, who is not knowledgeable about locomotives, reported the fire to a company dispatcher located in Farnham, Que., but said he does not know what happened next.

"This is what the investigation will tell us," he said.