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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2007
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Decatur firefighter Lt. Mickey Poole helps put out a brush fire on Woodall Road in Trinity.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Decatur firefighter Lt. Mickey Poole helps put out a brush fire on Woodall Road in Trinity.

Train's sparks ignite fire along tracks in Trinity

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

TRINITY — Fire, ignited by a passing train and fueled by underbrush and trees, crept to the fence of the Tennessee Valley Authority substation Tuesday at Old Trinity Road and Woodall Road.

"I've worked here since 1989, and this is the closest fire has come," said a TVA employee standing near a 500,000-volt transformer. He said he and a fellow employee, neither of whom would give their names, were keeping watch on the equipment and power lines.

"We've also been opening and closing gates, letting firefighters and trucks in and out to get through to the fire," he said.

Some reasoned that a concrete and gravel buffer, along with the fence, would prevent fire from reaching the substation. But the TVA employees said smoke posed another problem.

"We're concerned about smoke in the lines that could cause them to trip, similar to a tree falling into them," one said.

Firefighters from Trinity and Decatur Fire and Rescue responded to four or five separate blazes along the railroad tracks shortly before 2:30 p.m., according to Trinity Fire Chief Bill Pettey. The fires stretched west from Old Trinity Road to undergrowth at a railroad crossing near the entrance to Forest Home Estates subdivision.

While Trinity firefighters scurried up and down the road to snuff the smaller fires, Decatur concentrated on the potentially dangerous fire at the substation. Petty drove his command vehicle in and out of fields, continually monitoring the activity.

Susan Terpay, director of corporate communications for Norfolk Southern Railway Co., in Norfolk, Va., said brakes stuck on one of the cars of a train passing through the Decatur area.

"The pads rubbing together with the metal on the wheel caused the fire," she said. "We had a report that someone saw it sparking a fire, and we stopped the train immediately. We were able to fix the problem on the spot. We release the brake and the train can proceed, but you have to stop (the train.)"

She said officials stopped another train not long afterwards for public safety. That train stopped just past the Woodall Road crossing near Synagro for about 30 minutes while the fire near the substation and other fires burned ahead of it. The train pulled away at 3:15 p.m.

Pettey said it was the second such incident in two weeks. He said the previous fire burned on the west side of North Seneca Drive.

"We had to walk in and fight it with backpacks, which hold 5 gallons of water each," he said. Decatur firefighters used backpacks in some spots Tuesday, off an idle railroad utility spur that cuts through substation property.

At one point Tuesday, as Pettey stopped his truck in a field near the substation and stood atop a toolbox for a better view, skies darkened and thunder cracked.

"I wished that rain would come on in," he said.

At the same time, Decatur Lt. Mickey Poole and firefighter and paramedic Lyle Willits crossed the field and prepared to light backfires on the south side of the substation.

At 3:45 p.m., Pettey, joining Decatur firefighters at the substation, said the fire was under control.

During the height of the fires, Gary Collins checked on his nearby soybean field. Another property owner, John Eyster Jr., offered a bulldozer and track hoe but firefighters didn't need them.

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