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.