Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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April 24, 2014

Brush fires hamper train service, endanger homes

Firefighters had a marathon of their own on Patriots Day, as burning embers flying out of a train car led to a series of fires along the railroad tracks while dry conditions and possibly kids playing in the woods led to a brush fire near homes on Regency Ridge.

At around noon on Monday, five brush fires flared up along the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority tracks near Lowell Junction Road. The fires were caused by old railroad ties that caught fire after being thrown into a “hopper car.”

According for fire Chief Mike Mansfield, the railroad ties had been cut by contractors working on a track-widening project. The pieces were thrown into an open railroad car to be hauled away, but then somehow caught fire. As the train was trundling down the tracks, embers flew out of the train car and landed in the tinder-dry woods, igniting a series of fires.

The train headed south and when it was a few hundred yards past the Gillette plant at 30 Burtt Road, the engineer saw the smoke and flames coming from the car right behind the engine.

“He stopped the train,” Deputy Chief James Dolan said. He put the engine in reverse and backed the train off the main line and into a spur. By that time, the deputy chief said, five brush fires had started along the tracks. He estimated the fires extended over about three-quarters of a mile.

The fires caused numerous delays in train service Monday afternoon, from 20 to 70 minutes long, according to Scott Farmelant, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which runs the trains for the MBTA. At least eight trains, inbound and outbound, were affected, he said.

While Andover firefighters were battling the flames along the commuter line, another brush fire broke out on Regency Ridge. That blaze was unrelated to the fires along the tracks, according to Dolan.

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