Water train assists firefighters on Spromberg Fire in Washington

Above: A BNSF water train assists firefighters on the Spromberg Fire north of Leavenworth, Washington. Screen grab from New Life Channel video.

Firefighters struggled to find enough water to suppress a fire that began Tuesday in a large log deck three miles north of Leavenworth, Washington. A local resident told us that water sources were scarce, the nearest hydrants were miles away, and he counted 13 water tenders at the scene.

The BNSF water train eventually arrived carrying two large railroad cars with many thousands of gallons of water.

The passage of a dry cold front brought winds and long range spotting that spread the fire away from the log deck and across about 40 acres of forest. A Type 3 Incident Management Team assumed command on Wednesday.

Spromberg Fire map
Map showing the location of the Spromberg Fire three miles north of Leavenworth, Washington.
Spromberg Fire water train
A BNSF water train assists firefighters on the Spromberg Fire north of Leavenworth, Washington. Screen grab from Chelan County Fire District video.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Carl.
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Firefighting train used on Kearney River Fire

Firefighting Train Kearney
A firefighting train working on the Kearney River Fire. Screen grab from AZcentral video.

A firefighting train was used on the Kearny River Fire near Kearny, Arizona this week. Below is an excerpt from an article at AZcentral, which also has a video of the train in action.

…Arizona State Forestry spokesman Mike Reichling said this was the first time he had seen a train used at the scene of a wildfire. Two Copper Basin Railway cars equipped with water cannons have been blasting hot spots along the Gila River bed near Kearny, about 85 miles southeast of Phoenix. While helicopters and dozers have been tackling the fire, the train has played a key role.

“We work very closely with the firefighters,” Railway President Jake Jacobson said. “We can help to provide them water in remote places.”

The water tank cars, which are only operated by Copper Basin employees, have been focusing on dousing hot spots while they ride the tracks. Each car can hold 15,000 gallons of water and disperse it as far as 250 feet, Jacobson said. The rail tank cars were transformed as water tank cars in the mid-1990s. Based in Hayden, the Arizona short-line railroad stretches 54 miles from Magma to Winkelman.

We have written about firefighting trains twice before, using the tag Water Train.

More information about the Kearny River Fire (which has not spread much in the last day or two). The incident management team on June 19 called it 1,428 acres and 40 percent contained.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jason.

California: Two fires east of Redding double in size

Map of Eiler and Bald Fires
Map of Eiler and Bald Fires, 11 p.m., August 2, 2014. (click to enlarge)

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.

Eiler Fire

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.

Redding FD engine damaged in Eiler Fire
Redding Fire Department engine sustained damaged in Eiler Fire. Photo by KRCR.

Bald 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.

Bald and Day Fires
Bald Fire with the Day Fire in the background. July 31, 2014. InciWeb photo.

BNSF Railroad is providing a two-car fire train to assist with fire suppression along the railroad tracks. In 2010 we wrote about fire trains. Here is an excerpt:

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.

firefighting train
A firefighting train on the White Lightning Complex Fire in August, 2010 near Warm Springs, Oregon.

Fighting fire with a train

firefighting train
A firefighting train on the White Lightning Complex fire a few days ago near Warm Springs, Oregon

When we reported on the firefighting train that was used on the White Lightning Complex fire on August 23, 2010, it got us interested in trains as a piece of firefighting apparatus. It turns out that there is a lot more of this going on than we realized.

Railroads have firefighting trains for these types of incidents:

  • to put out fires caused by their track grinding operations,
  • to fight fires along their tracks in order to prevent the rail ties from burning and to protect their property,
  • to suppress fires inside tunnels,
  • rescue passengers in burning tunnels, and
  • to put out fires that threaten to burn their bridges, trestles, and snow sheds (wooden structures covering tracks in the mountains)
water cars for firefighting train
Water cars for firefighting train

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.

Fire train

John Signor, when writing in his book Donner Pass:Southern Pacific’s Sierra Crossing, said this about the Central Pacific fire trains that worked in the Sierra Mountains in the late 1800’s:

Continue reading “Fighting fire with a train”

Four very large fires burning in US and Canada

Four very large fires are burning in Idaho, Oregon, and British Columbia. We’ll start with the largest and work down.

The Long Butte fire started at about 4 p.m. Saturday, 30 miles south of Glenns Ferry, Idaho. It has now burned 215,000 acres including most of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument near Hagerman, ID, requiring the closure of the facility. Type 3 Incident Commander Jeff Bedke of the BLM was quoted as saying that at one point the fire was moving across the landscape at 30 mph.  Whalens Type 2 Incident Management Team was expected to assume command of the fire at 6 a.m. Monday. (UPDATE @ 2:00 p.m. Aug. 24)

Lone Butte fire map 8-23-2010
Map showing heat in the Long Butte fire this morning, detected by the MODIS satellite. The National Monument is the gray area west of Hagerman. Most of the fire area is southwest of this image, but due to the light fuels, has cooled and was not detected by the thermal sensor on the satellite.

Two fires in British Columbia, the Binta Lake fire southeast of Burns Lake, and a fire near Cassiar, have burned 99,000 and 86,000 acres respectively. The Binta Lake fire has been burning since July 28. There is optimism that the highway north of Cassiar that connects BC with the Yukon will be opened today after being closed for most of the month because of the fire. Lower temperatures and higher humidities have slowed the spread of the fires in recent days. Both fires are about 20% contained.

The White Lightning Complex on the Warm Springs Reservation, 15 miles north of Warm Springs, Oregon has burned 24,397 acres of dry grass, sage, juniper and pockets of pine and oak in rocky, rugged terrain.

A train with three tank cars of water and a pumping system was used along a railroad to help suppress the fire. Is there a task book to become qualified as Train-Pulled Fire Suppression System Operator? (See the photos below.)

(UPDATE: Aug. 24, 2010. HERE we explore in detail the concept of fire trains.)

Warm springs fire
A mist of fire retardant settles over Shaniko Butte on the White Lightning fire. Photo: Tom Jones

More about the White Lightning fire from InciWeb:

Two cabins were lost in the Dent area, and eight cabins were evacuated and are at risk. The Deschutes River is closed to rafting from Warm Springs to Maupin. 100-plus rafters are stranded upriver above active fire. Further evacuations are in progress on the east side of the Deschutes River.

Below are some photos taken by one of the rafters that was forced to evacuate, including pictures of the train fire suppression system. We don’t know the name of the photographer, but all 12 of their photos can be seen at KGW.com.

Continue reading “Four very large fires burning in US and Canada”