For the second time this year, a passing train started fires along Highways 9 and 12

Take a look back at the 2018 wildfire season in the western U.S.

The National Interagency Fire Center summarizes the wild fires that burned the U.S. in 2018.
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The National Interagency Fire Center summarizes the wild fires that burned the U.S. in 2018.

A train started six small fires along a 2-mile stretch of railroad tracks near Old Highway 9 and Highway 12 Tuesday, according to the West Thurston Regional Fire Authority. It’s the second occurrence of its kind along that stretch so far this year.

A similar incident occurred on April 30, when fire was reported in six places along tracks in the same general area. In April, wind spread the fire and it reached about 3 acres.

This time, Fire Chief Russ Kaleiwahea told The Olympian each “spot fire” was roughly 100-feet-by-100-feet or smaller. He said one tree ignited, but firefighters from his department and the state Department of Natural Resources extinguished the fires before they caused any damage to structures.

He credited a light rain for Tuesday’s smaller fires. On another day with different weather conditions, he said the outcome could have been much different.

I have urged them (the railroad) to make sure that this does not occur again,” Kaleiwahea said. “I’ve expressed to them how devastating it could be if weather conditions were different.”

Kaleiwahea said the fire furthest east was at the intersection of Grand Mound Way Southwest and Pecan Street Southwest. The fire furthest west was where Hilt Street Southwest meets Highway 12. He said the train stopped at the 183rd Avenue Southwest and Highway 12 interchange.

“The train was stopped and secured to allow for fire crews to safely extend hoses under the train cars to reach one spot fire that would have otherwise been inaccessible by road,” according to a post on the authority’s Facebook page.

The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Kaleiwahea thinks it’s “highly likely” that the fires started from the locomotive stack. He said he believes the stack was “emitting heated carbon” that ignited the fires.

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019. She primarily covers Thurston County government and its courts, as well as breaking news. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.