Railroad charged with felonies for starting fires in Michigan

According to Paul Kollmeyer of the DNR, the Grayling fire was one of few capable of jumping a 4-lane highway and median. This photo depicts the fire as it continues its charge toward Grayling. It also shows the fire has already jumped across I-75. DNR photo.
According to Paul Kollmeyer of the DNR, the Grayling fire was one of a few fires that were capable of jumping a 4-lane highway and median. This photo shows the fire as it spread toward Grayling after it jumped across I-75. DNR photo.

From alpenanow.com:

Lake State Railway is facing criminal charges for allegedly starting the 2008 fire that torched some 1,300 acres of forest, several homes and other buildings in Grayling.

The railroad company is also accused of starting another fire in Arenac County. Attorney General Mike Cox believes both fires were started by a train engine that threw burning embers from the exhaust system because it was not equipped with standard safety equipment called spark arresters.

Lake State is charged with two felony counts of setting fire to a forest land and two misdemeanor counts of operating an engine without spark arresters.

If found guilty, a court could order the railroad company to pay fines and full restitution, including property damage and response costs. The Grayling fire resulted in an estimated $464,000 in timber damage, $370,000 in personal property damage and $100,000 in fire suppression costs.

In a press release, the Attorney General said the railroad “knowingly operated an unsafe train engine” without functioning spark arrestors. In addition, “When a company ignores standard safety practices and threatens not only the environment but human lives, we will hold them accountable.”

Too often railroads get away with felonies, including murder or manslaughter, for starting fires, because the responsible agencies fail to adequately investigate the cause and origin of railroad-caused fires….and because law enforcement agencies fail to file charges when a case can be proven. Congratulations to Michigan’s Attorney General Mike Cox for having the courage to pursue these cases in Michigan.

As we reported on November 5, 2009, a television station found that over the last decade 234 fires in Washington were attributed to railroads. Houses burned and one person was killed, but no citations or criminal charges were issued. Zero for 234. Not a very good batting average for the fire agencies and Washington’s Attorney General Robert McKenna, who has been in that position since January, 2005. At the very top of the Attorney General’s web page is this:

The Attorney General’s Office makes a difference every day for the people of Washington.

Sometimes the difference is positive, and sometimes, not so much.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.