Coal-burning trains operated by D&SNG in Colorado have started multiple wildfires in the San Juan National Forest
According to an article in the Durango Herald the company that operates a steam-powered railroad for tourists north of Durango, Colorado has been paying only about half of the costs of suppressing numerous fires started by the coal-burning locomotives.
The newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request in order to get the U.S. Forest Service to release information about the fires caused by the train that burned in the San Juan National Forest. Much of the 42-mile route the steam engines travel between Durango and Silverton is within the National Forest.
The Herald studied seven of the major fires that occurred between 1994 and 2013 that investigators determined were started by the train. In these cases the railroad offered to pay much less than the amount billed by the Forest Service. The agency settled with the company, agreeing to allow payments of between 20 and 88 percent for the seven fires, averaging 53 percent of the billed amounts.
We assembled the data from the article and created the table below.
The U.S. Forest Service has not released the cause of the most recent fire that started near the railroad, the 416 Fire that burned about 54,000 acres and ran up suppression costs totaling approximately $31.3 million as of six weeks after the fire started.
The fire burned over 54,000 acres north of Durango, Colorado in June, 2018
At least six local residents and business owners in the Durango, Colorado area have filed a lawsuit against the company that operates the steam engine-powered train that hauls tourists on a 50-mile route between that city and Silverton. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad locomotive burns coal which heats water, converting it to steam. Similar powered trains are known to start fires when burning embers are produced along with the smoke. The suit alleges that the train started a fire on June 1 north of Durango that eventually burned over 54,000 acres in very steep terrain west of Highway 550.
When the fire first started it was named the “Train xx Fire”. But instead of the “xx” there was a number, which gave the impression that a train had also started other fires in the area. After the fire quickly grew very large, the name was changed to “416 Fire”. The U.S. Forest Service investigated to determine the cause, but according to an article in the Durango Herald they have not released the results, which will likely be reviewed by Colorado State Attorney General’s office before they are revealed in late fall or early winter.
The people that filed the lawsuit claim the fire adversely affected tourism, causing a 5.6 percent drop in sales tax and a 13.2 percent drop in lodgers tax over the same period in 2017.
Below are excerpts from the Herald’s article:
Plaintiffs say the company and its owner knew, or should have known, of the drought conditions that existed at the time the fire started.
The company did work to prevent this possibility. The train has its own firefighting tactics, such as having pop cars with water tankers follow a train to extinguish small fires and a helicopter to tackle fires from the air.
But plaintiffs say the railway operator was not equipped to extinguish this blaze. It had just laid off its veteran crew of firefighters at the beginning of the year, the lawsuit states, and replaced them “with employees much less experienced in fire mitigation and firefighting techniques.”
Fire crews “were unable to put down the fire because they were insufficiently trained by the defendant and/or because the firefighting equipment provided on the pop car was wholly insufficient to appropriately respond to the fire,” attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
The video below is an interview with Cres Fleming who was the second person on scene at the 416 Fire June 1, 2018.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Gary. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The fire appears to have started from grinding and welding operations on a railroad line
Above: Dry Creek Fire, November 22, 2017. Photo by Josephine Weekley, Fairburn VFD.
(Originally published at 1:33 p.m. MST November 24, 2017)
A wildfire east of the Black Hills of South Dakota burned 291 acres between Hermosa and Fairburn November 22. It occurred on a day when the weather station at Rapid City Regional Airport recorded wind gusts up to 42 mph and a minimum relative humidity of 29 percent. The suspected cause, Jim Strain, Assistant Chief at the Fairburn Fire Department said, was railroad maintenance that included welding and grinding on the tracks.
The fast moving fire threatened structures on several ranches but was knocked down by 4 p.m. the same day. It was declared controlled Friday, November 24.
Railroads start many wildfires in the United States. The most common causes are inadequately maintained spark arrestors, faulty brakes, and like in this case, grinding and welding. Too often the companies are not held accountable or required to pay for the costs of suppressing the fires.
The Sheep Fire, burning near the BNSF railroad tracks just south of Essex, Montana, has caused the intermittent closure of the tracks to Amtrak and BNSF trains. Since it is in the best interests of the railroad and the firefighters to suppress the fire as quickly as possible, BNSF is cooperating in various ways, including transporting fire personnel in a caboose car and using a crane and flat cars to remove slash from a shaded fuel break being constructed by feller-bunchers.
The Sheep Fire, part of the Thompson-Divide Complex, has burned about 2,100 acres on the Flathead National Forest.
Below is a video showing the feller-bunchers in action, and after that is a slide show of photos taken by Jonathan Moor of the Information organization on the fire. Mr. Moor also shot the video.
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.
The province [of Ontario] is seeking compensation from Canadian National Railway over four forest fires in 2012, including $38 million for a massive fire near Timmins.
The province is alleging the fires were started by passing trains. The other three court actions involve another fires near Timmins, Chapleau and Thunder Bay. The damages sought in those cases are between $1 million and $2 million each.
The $38 million court action involves a fire called Timmins 9 in May of 2012.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry alleges the fire was started by the passage of a train through the area. The fire burned 40,000 hectares (98,000 acres) of bush and destroyed several camps.
The fire was the largest one in the province in half a century, and came within about 20 kilometers of the City of Timmins…
Documents filed in the case regarding the Timmins 9 Fire include the following:
14 The Ministry investigators also determined that the point of origin of the fire was within the railway right-of-way and approximately 2 1/2 metres from the western most rail at mileage 96.48.
16. At the point of origin, the investigators found a metal fragment whose particular characteristics indicated it had been heated and had been exposed to the elements for a short time.
17. Metal fragments are a competent source of ignition and may be released due to inter alia treading or wear or buildup from railway operations. This particular metal fragment, recently deposited, was a result of the railway operations of the defendant CNR.
The documents also accuse the railroad of failing to:
properly maintain, repair, and inspect the tracks and right-of-way;
properly maintain, repair, and inspect its railway cars, engines, and equipment including brake assembly and exhaust systems;
manage vegetation through controlled burns or other means;
provide a sufficient number of stations on its routes and personnel on the trains to detect and suppress fires;
control or extinguish the fire and failed to limit its spread beyond its property.