As I alluded to in my “From the Mountains to the Desert” last week I ran into a few fires east of the mountains. In fact fires defined the first few days of the trip. As I crested the Horse Heaven Hills west of the Tri-Cities the first radio conversation I heard with the Pasco East dispatcher was something to the effect a large fire was burning near the track near MP 103.5 and the track was closed. What a great way to break into my Providence Hill railfanning vacation!
As I drove east of Pasco I realized what had happened as I saw fire apparatus along the right of way from Eltopia all the way to Hatton fighting various sized blazes. From what I could gather from radio conversations an eastbound train had a locomotive in consist that released sparks periodically which started all these fires. By Cunningham the offending locomotive was taken off line and the new fires stopped. That was enough to create a mess though as trains were starting to tie down at various places because of all the congestion caused by closing the track.
The next day as I drove east from Hatton to Cunningham I came across another blaze at the intersection of the Lind-Hatton Rd. and the Cunningham Rd. Fortunately this was away from the tracks so trains kept moving. The couple shoveling dirt on the flames with their hands had way more to deal with than they could handle but they’d called it in and fire crews arrived soon after we passed.
On the third day I spent most of the morning hanging around Beatrice and photographing trains under some wonderful Kodachrome skies. Off to the west there was a smoke plume which rose occasionally then dissipated. After noon the plume was still there but seemed much larger than before. Robert suggested we go see what was going on since the trains had temporarily dried up. 10 miles west of Providence we came across a couple of hundred acres of charred wild land and more fire apparatus engaging the blaze. The most interesting part of the fire fight (aside from the resident of Lind who liked to talk) was the trio of crop dusters dropping water on one flank of the blaze while fire crews attacked another.
The blaze burned on for most of the afternoon and it wasn’t until sunset that the smoke finally blew away from us up at Keystone. This fire didn’t impact BNSF operations but had the Milwaukee Road been operating they would have closed most likely since this was up against their (former) right of way.
Saturday and Sunday were thankfully fire free days. Finally we could enjoy the trains without the distractions!