The fire appears to have started from grinding and welding operations on a railroad line
Above: Dry Creek Fire, November 22, 2017. Photo by Josephine Weekley, Fairburn VFD.
(Originally published at 1:33 p.m. MST November 24, 2017)
A wildfire east of the Black Hills of South Dakota burned 291 acres between Hermosa and Fairburn November 22. It occurred on a day when the weather station at Rapid City Regional Airport recorded wind gusts up to 42 mph and a minimum relative humidity of 29 percent. The suspected cause, Jim Strain, Assistant Chief at the Fairburn Fire Department said, was railroad maintenance that included welding and grinding on the tracks.
The fast moving fire threatened structures on several ranches but was knocked down by 4 p.m. the same day. It was declared controlled Friday, November 24.
Railroads start many wildfires in the United States. The most common causes are inadequately maintained spark arrestors, faulty brakes, and like in this case, grinding and welding. Too often the companies are not held accountable or required to pay for the costs of suppressing the fires.
The Sheep Fire, burning near the BNSF railroad tracks just south of Essex, Montana, has caused the intermittent closure of the tracks to Amtrak and BNSF trains. Since it is in the best interests of the railroad and the firefighters to suppress the fire as quickly as possible, BNSF is cooperating in various ways, including transporting fire personnel in a caboose car and using a crane and flat cars to remove slash from a shaded fuel break being constructed by feller-bunchers.
The Sheep Fire, part of the Thompson-Divide Complex, has burned about 2,100 acres on the Flathead National Forest.
Below is a video showing the feller-bunchers in action, and after that is a slide show of photos taken by Jonathan Moor of the Information organization on the fire. Mr. Moor also shot the video.
For decades the railroads in northwest Indiana south of Lake Michigan have been starting fires on private and public land, including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Caused mostly by poor maintenance of their spark arrestors, the railroad companies were rarely if ever held accountable for the damage they caused.
In one case that may be changing. According to the Chicago Tribune, the federal government has filed suit against the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad which goes through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The railroad allegedly started what became a 391-acre fire on March 10, 2012 that spread seven miles across the park, forcing residents of the community of Ogden Dunes to evacuate.
Below is an excerpt from the article in the Chicago Tribune:
…The fire burned through 391 acres of the national lakeshore, including the lakeshore’s Karner blue butterfly habitat, where the park had been trying to reintroduce the endangered species and to study the best landscape variations to do so.
The fire destroyed the data from the research, according to the lawsuit, along with other park property.
The government says that evidence, including a video, shows that hot cinders from a passing Indiana Harbor train were ejected from the train, which the lawsuit claims started the brush fire.
It adds that two of the train’s spark arrestor carbon traps were plugged and that front exhaust stack opening showed moderate to heavy carbon accumulation.
The government is asking that Indiana Harbor pay for all the damages and forfeit two of its locomotives toward that cost.
The video below shows a portion of the fire that day in 2012.
The province [of Ontario] is seeking compensation from Canadian National Railway over four forest fires in 2012, including $38 million for a massive fire near Timmins.
The province is alleging the fires were started by passing trains. The other three court actions involve another fires near Timmins, Chapleau and Thunder Bay. The damages sought in those cases are between $1 million and $2 million each.
The $38 million court action involves a fire called Timmins 9 in May of 2012.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry alleges the fire was started by the passage of a train through the area. The fire burned 40,000 hectares (98,000 acres) of bush and destroyed several camps.
The fire was the largest one in the province in half a century, and came within about 20 kilometers of the City of Timmins…
Documents filed in the case regarding the Timmins 9 Fire include the following:
14 The Ministry investigators also determined that the point of origin of the fire was within the railway right-of-way and approximately 2 1/2 metres from the western most rail at mileage 96.48.
16. At the point of origin, the investigators found a metal fragment whose particular characteristics indicated it had been heated and had been exposed to the elements for a short time.
17. Metal fragments are a competent source of ignition and may be released due to inter alia treading or wear or buildup from railway operations. This particular metal fragment, recently deposited, was a result of the railway operations of the defendant CNR.
The documents also accuse the railroad of failing to:
properly maintain, repair, and inspect the tracks and right-of-way;
properly maintain, repair, and inspect its railway cars, engines, and equipment including brake assembly and exhaust systems;
manage vegetation through controlled burns or other means;
provide a sufficient number of stations on its routes and personnel on the trains to detect and suppress fires;
control or extinguish the fire and failed to limit its spread beyond its property.
*The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has published a report on a BIA engine that rolled over near Warm Springs, Oregon, July 18, 2014. Two people were injured, one seriously. The LLC says more than 50 fire vehicles have rolled over in the last 10 years.
*A Colorado artist has created a work consisting of rectilinear pillars suspended from the ceiling, each measuring nine feet tall, meant to convey the idea of a wildfire.
*In other news from Australia, a Senator gave a speech, titled, Thank you For Smoking, praising nicotine fiends for their $8 billion a year contribution to the economy. He said he did the math: Last year smokers cost the health care system $320 million and another $150 million in bushfire control.
*Researchers have found that “recent (2001–2010) beetle outbreak severity was unrelated to most field measures of subsequent fire severity, which was instead driven primarily by extreme burning conditions (weather) and topography.” Unfortunately, to read the article, researched and published by government employees, it will cost you $10 for two days of access. If the researchers, Brian J. Harvey, Daniel C. Donato, and Monica G. Turner, are going to hide the results of their taxpayer-funded research behind a pay wall, what’s the point in hiring researchers? Support Open Access.
Two fires about 40 miles east of Redding, California doubled in size on Saturday. These fires are part of the reason the number of burned acres in California’s National Forest has quadrupled since Wednesday.
The Eiler and Bald Fires were both very active with each devouring an additional 16,000 to 17,000 acres.
The Eiler Fire, 40 miles east of Redding and 4 miles southeast of Burney, has blackened 23,000 acres. On Saturday it was very active on the north, southeast, and west sides, moving onto the east slope of Burney Mountain. Evacuations have been issued for Johnson Park, Cassel, Big Eddie Estates. An advisory has been issued for the town of Burney. The fire has crossed Highway 89 which remains closed from the junction of Hwy 44 and 89 north to Hwy 299.
The fire behavior was described by firefighters as “running, torching, and long range spotting, with rapid rates of spread downhill to the north and east.”
An engine from the Redding Fire Department was damaged in the Eiler Fire.
The Bald Fire is 52 miles east of Redding, 13 miles east of Burney, and 7 miles east of the Eiler Fire. It doubled in size Saturday, spreading through drought-affected six-foot tall brush and patches of timber, growing from 17,000 acres to 34,000. Late on Saturday it was exhibiting extreme fire behavior, most actively spreading on the south and southwest sides.
In the United States firefighting trains are frequently called water cars or fire trains. Usually a fire train consists of an engine, several tank cars carrying 7,000 to 14,000 gallons of water each, and sometimes a caboose for transporting the employees or firefighters to operate the fire equipment. Most fire trains carry an assortment of fire equipment including hose reels, hand tools, nozzles, and hose. Sometimes each tank car will have it’s own pump and master stream nozzles, and they often have the ability connect the tank cars together with hoses so that the water can be shared between the cars. When a fire train has an engine at each end, the train can be split so that both ends of a trestle can be protected at the same time.