BNSF railroad sued for starting fire

Eleven property owners near Marshall, Washington, just south of Spokane, have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against BNSF Railway for allegedly causing a 365-acre fire in 2007. According to the Seattle Times, the suit…

…cites a state Department of Natural Resources investigation that concluded a carbon buildup in the stack of a BNSF locomotive spewed hot cinders, which started a series of fires along the railroad’s right of way.

BNSF was negligent, the suit contends, because 36 similar fires caused by the railroad’s locomotives broke out along the same right of way since 1970.

Several of the fires sparked on Aug. 11, 2007, merged, becoming what was called the Marshall Complex Fire, causing evacuations of homes between Marshall and Cheney.

Wildfire Today has written previously about irresponsible railroad companies who fail to perform routine maintenance on their turbocharger exhaust systems and cause fires like those above. It can be very difficult for a cause and origin fire investigator to prove within a reasonable doubt that a particular piece of carbon or brake piece caused a fire, since there is usually a lot of carbon and brake debris along railroad tracks.

On November 22 we wrote:

The U.S. Forest Service has filed a lawsuit against the Union Pacific Railroad for starting a 2002 fire in Price Canyon in Utah. The fire burned 3,200 acres and the government is seeking $653,364 in restitution for suppression and rehab costs.

The suit also names MotivePower, the company that installed and maintained the turbo charger which is blamed for starting the fire.

Fires caused by railroads are much more numerous than people think. Most railroad fires are caused by improperly maintained turbochargers on the engines. If not maintained, large pieces of red-hot carbon can be blown out of the turbo chargers, starting fires. A smaller percentage of railroad-caused fires originate from brakes that lock up, become super-heated, disintegrate and shower the area with hot metal. I once responded to a series of 11 fires over several miles that started from hot brakes.

As a former cause and origin investigator, I like to see other investigators doing their jobs well, and getting the attention of irresponsible railroad companies.