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Multiple towns respond to fire on railroad ties in Northfield

  • Multiple towns are responding to a fire on railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Firefighters from 11 towns worked to fight a fire that engulfed roughly 1,500 railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 in Northfield on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Firefighters from 11 towns worked to fight a fire that engulfed roughly 1,500 railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 in Northfield on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Firefighters from 11 towns worked to fight a fire that engulfed roughly 1,500 railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 in Northfield on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Eleven fire departments brought water to fight a fire that engulfed roughly 1,500 railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 in Northfield on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

NORTHFIELD — Eleven towns assisted to fight a fire that engulfed roughly 1,500 railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 Tuesday night.

According to Northfield Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III, a passerby reported dark smoke coming from the gravel pit at around 6:45 p.m.

“We found a portion of the railroad ties were on fire,” Dunnell said. “We had a brush fire behind it as well.”

Dunnell estimated about 1,500 railroad ties were on fire, though the row of railroad ties spanned hundreds of feet along the ridge.

Northfield, Bernardston, Montague Center, Gill, Erving, Turners Falls, Greenfield, Warwick, Vernon, Vt., Hinsdale, N.H., and Winchester, N.H. departments were all called to the scene. Brattleboro, Vt. provided station coverage.

Dunnell said firefighters tried to cut off the main fire from the rest of the ties, tanking in water from Tufts Pond. Tanker trucks waiting to refill with water lined Route 142, which was closed to traffic near Lane Construction.

Backhoes owned by the town of Northfield, Mitchell and Pan Am Railways were brought in to separate the unaffected ties from those on fire, Dunnell said, while a ladder truck doused them with water.

The rail line is also shut down, Dunnell said, because the fire caused the tracks and the ties supporting them to spring up, pointing vertically 4 feet in the air.

As of about 9 p.m., the brush fire had been put out. No firefighters were injured, Dunnell said, though Northfield Emergency Medical Services stood by and crews rotated in and out frequently due to the heat.

“The wind did put (the fire) out into the woods, but we’ve got it in check,” Dunnell said. “We’ve got it contained but nowhere near out … We’re going to be dumping water on these things for hours.”

To have a direct water supply, Dunnell said the crews also began relaying water from a pond about 4,000 feet away.

Dunnell said he suspects the fire was caused when a spark from a train’s engine or off the rails ignited either the brush or the railroad ties, but said he would need to speak with witnesses to confirm.

However, the railroad ties weren’t supposed to be piled along the gravel pit, Dunnell said. Based on speaking with Pan Am employees, Dunnell said he believes railroad company staff were responsible for leaving them there.

“It’s illegal dumping as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Dunnell was even able to remember a similar incident which occurred 20 years ago, when his department spent two continuous days working to put out thousands of flaming railroad ties which had been dumped in a pit.

As of press time Tuesday night, representatives from Pan Am could not be reached.