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DNR completes investigation of Broughton Fire

Rail grindings were the cause

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has finally released its official report of the cause of the Broughton Fire near Underwood last September.

The wildfire, which started on Sept. 20 near the old Broughton Lumber Mill and swept up the Underwood bluff on a breezy day, burned six homes and displaced families. In total, about 150 acres burned.

Crews fought the fire for two days.

According to the DNR report, which was made available just last week, rail grinding operations by the Burlington Norther Santa Fe Railway Co. were the "likely" cause for the blaze.

"The fire started on the BNSF Railway right of way and burned mostly ground belonging to SDS Lumber," read a summary of the fire investigation report. "The origin was found to be adjacent to the BNSF mainline. The likely cause was material thrown from the grinding of the rails by the Harsco Track Technologies rail grinder."

Fire investigator Steven Teitzel's report explained that two points of origin were found along the railway line, which is BNSF's main east-west route through the Columbia River Gorge.

"Magnetic particles consistent with the type of particles created by the use of a grinder were found at both points of origin," Teitzel explained in his report. "A Harsco Track Technologies rail grinder had been grinding rails in the area earlier in the day."

Teitzel reviewed a number of potential causes for the fire, including lightning, campfires, debris burning, children playing with matches, smoking materials, and miscellaneous (such as fireworks, blasting, logging, electric fences, vehicle fire, or downed power lines). According to the official report, no signs of any of these possible causes were present at the site of the Broughton Fire.

Arson was also ruled out, as there was no evidence of incendiary devices found in the area.

Tad McGeer, one of the residents who lost his home in the fast-moving fire, said the report was not a surprise. McGeer pointed out that the grinding had been widely blamed as the cause of the fire, but it was good to have that belief officially verified.

"Presumably, we will all now try to recover damages from the railroad," McGeer said.

The official DNR report contained 124 pages of testimony, accounts from witnesses, photos, maps, and analysis.

To access the full document on the Internet, go to:


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