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Fire officials say train may have set fires

May 28, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Firefighters in Halfway and Hagerstown spent several hours Friday extinguishing a number of small fires they believe were sparked by a moving train.

A railroad employee disputed that claim.

Firefighters from the Volunteer Fire Company of Halfway and Hagerstown Fire Department at about 11:15 a.m. Friday began extinguishing small fires along the east side of the railroad tracks from the Williamsport area through Halfway and into Hagerstown, Halfway firefighter Bill Kulpinski said.

As of 1 p.m., they had put out all the fires but were continuing to monitor the area, Kulpinski said.

Firefighters scrambled to stop the train when the fires were first reported mid-morning Friday.

Hagerstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Horn finally stopped the alleged culprit - an extra long Winchester & Western train - by flagging it down on the tracks off Burhans Boulevard behind the Lowe's Distribution Center, he said.

"It's the first time in my career I've stopped a train," Horn said.

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He said he thought hot carbon build-up from the older model diesel engine broke loose, blew out the train's exhaust system and ignited combustibles along its path.

"I would think it's in dire need of maintenance," Horn said.

The extra freight cars that the engine was hauling apparently added to its stress, Horn said. Train workers detached about half of the cars on the tracks behind the distribution center, Horn said, and planned to make two trips to the train's final destination at a rail yard off Downsville Pike.

A Virginia-based Winchester & Western railroad employee, who refused to be named, said the train - which was hauling extra sand and other commodities due to the upcoming holiday weekend - did not spark the fires.

He attributed a small brush fire near the railroad tracks off Burhans Boulevard to hobos.

Several homeless people camping in the woods near the tracks were responsible for a small brush fire there at about 11 a.m. Friday, Officer Steve Cromer of the Hagerstown Police Department said.

But fire officials blamed the train for igniting the other brush fires.

The Winchester & Western employee said that although the train was traveling from Inwood, W.Va., to Hagerstown in part by using the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks along which the fires burned, it was running on the western set of tracks so it could not have sparked fires on the east side.

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