Deer Creek Fire Started By Railroad Locomotive

Jul 19, 2018

After an investigation fire officials have determined the cause of the Deer Creek fire.

The Deer Creek fire started on Wednesday July 11, when sparks from a Heber Valley train caused flames to race up the hillside near the Deer Creek dam and burn 381 acres. A heavy rainstorm stopped the progress of the flames just a few hours later. Fire officials worked to put the flames out a few days later on the 16th.

KPCW spoke with Mark Nelson the executive director with Heber Valley Railroad. Nelson said the flames were a result of a ‘perfect storm’ of bad conditions.

Nelson said, “Our diesel locomotives are fitted with equipment that is designed to arrest sparks and make this unlikely to happen. This event in question is likely one of those where, like other accidents, a perfect storm of events that all line up to make it possible for something like this fire to happen. It appears that's what happened in our case.”

The Heber Valley Railroad used to have a truck follow with a water tank and hose to spray out any potential flames, Nelson explained why they don’t use them as often.

“In the past before my time, and I’ve been here six and a half years, the steam locomotive would often have a high-rail truck with a small water tank and hose follow the steam locomotive.” Nelson continued, “Because coal-burning steam locomotives would often expel little hot ashes and things which would sometimes in the hot summer months start little fires along the tracks. We haven’t run steam locomotives here since 2010, and so haven’t done that with our diesel equipment.”

Nelson said that even if the diesel train had a water tank following behind, it would have been unable to stop the flames. He says the incredibly dry conditions were one part of the accident.

“The wind was blowing at 30-40 miles an hour in gusts. When this little fire started within 5 minutes it was way way way up the hill. It was burning grass.” Neslson said, “the little truck, if it would have been following this event, would not have been able to stop that fire or anything even close to it. This fire exploded just and shot up this hill side.”

Nelson says Heber Valley Railroad is monitored by federal agencies.

“We’re monitored by the Federal Railroad Authority just like every railroad is and have all of the same inspections and safety requirements.” Nelson said, “we’re compliant with those, and always will be.”