Seattle TV station exposes railroad-caused fires in Washington

At Wildfire Today we have frequently written about wildfires caused by the negligence of railroad companies. For example:

Fires caused by railroads are much more numerous than people think. Most railroad fires are caused by improperly maintained turbo chargers 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.A cause and origin fire investigator, looking for what started a fire near railroad tracks, can usually find many pieces of carbon along the tracks. To definitively say that a single piece started a particular fire can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.In some parts of the country, including northwest Indiana, railroads have gotten a free ride. They save money by reducing the maintenance on their turbo chargers, start fires, then many times get away with it.

Fires caused by railroads are much more numerous than people think. Most railroad fires are caused by improperly maintained turbo chargers 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.

A cause and origin fire investigator, looking for what started a fire near railroad tracks, can usually find many pieces of carbon along the tracks. To definitively say that a single piece started a particular fire can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

In some parts of the country, including northwest Indiana, railroads have gotten a free ride. They save money by reducing the maintenance on their turbo chargers, start fires, then many times get away with it.

Yesterday a Seattle television station, KONG, or KING5.com, aired the first portion of a two-part series about wildfires that are caused by railroads. They found that over the last decade 234 fires in the state were attributed to railroads. Houses burned and one person was killed, but no citations or criminal charges were issued. Here is a 5-minute video from that report.

(VIDEO NO LONGER AVAILABLE)

One of the troubling parts of the video is when Joe Shramek, the Resource Protection Manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources says they can’t take action against a railroad for starting a fire unless they can prove that:

…the railroad acted deliberately, intentionally, and recklessly.

That is a ridiculously high standard. In most states and on federal land, a deliberately-set fire is one thing, arson, and a fire that is unintentional but results from negligence is treated as a separate violation of the law.  If the State of Washington can’t prosecute someone for negligently allowing a fire to start and/or burn public or private land, they need to amend their law.

The State of Washington is negligent for sitting on their hands while they watch the railroads start fires and in some cases kill people and burn houses.

Here is a second video from KONG that provides more details about why they conducted their investigation.

(VIDEO NO LONGER AVAILABLE)

Here are links to documents provided by KONG:

The second in their series of reports will air Thursday night. We will post that video when it becomes available.

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