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All aboard: Train helps stop Finley wildfire in its tracks


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A special weapon helped fire crews surround and eventually capture Thursday's wildfire just south of Finley at Meals Rd. and Toothaker Rd.

It's called a fire train and fire leaders say the Tri-Cities is extremely lucky to have one stationed in Pasco.

Benton County Fire District 1 chief Lonnie Click said not only do the trains transport water to hard to reach places: they attack wildland fires, swooping in with a one-two punch.

Each train has three monitors, manned water cannons, soaking everything they can, reducing dry fuels, so the flames have nowhere to go.

"They're sitting up there at probably 20 feet, in the air above the tracks. They're shooting it way out high and it really does a good job, it puts a hurtin' on a fire," he said.

Click told Action News they're already seeing July-like fire conditions in June, and he worries it's going to be a rough year for fires.

He says some terrain is worse than others, so the partnership with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway is vital.

"People can't crawl through it, you can't run heavy equipment through it," Click explained, gesturing toward damp blackened earth under a scorched Russian olive tree. "The train helped us finish [protecting] the last hundred feet because the bulldozer couldn't get through the swamp."

"It's a great concept and its been a great relationship so far," said Franklin county fire chief Mike Harris. "It takes them a little bit to get hooked up but once they get moving they've been a great asset over the last five years."

Harris said fire crews haven't always had access to the railroad in our area, and we're lucky BNSF stores one in Pasco.

After that the next-closest is in Wenatchee or Wishram.

Fire leaders said trains are also used to scout ahead, allowing crews to get a head start on containing a blaze.

Harris says accessing areas fire-trucks can't get to is great, but even better is how much water each tank carries, packing quite a punch when time is of the essence.

"They don't have to do as many trips," he explained. "Our firetrucks carry 400 to 750 gallons of water but each train car carries 30-thousand gallons of water."

To achieve that volume of water crews would need to at least 40 extra trucks drenching the scene.

Fire leaders said Thursday's wildfire scorched about 80 acres, fairly small compared to others, though still enough to require all-hands-on-deck.

Chief Click said teamwork is critical for our area, between agencies and the railway.

He said a lot of our fires would be significantly larger without access to the fire train.

"In a place that's really hard to get to you'd have to go to the next road system or the next place you can get people through."

"Not one agency in the Tri-Cities could handle a fire this size [alone]," Chief Harris said. "We've got areas in Benton, Franklin and even through Walla Walla we can't get to right away."

Harris said even small fires require mutual aid between the many fire districts in our area because a significant amount of local crews are volunteers with jobs during the day.

He said in the future we'll see more collaboration, more automatic aid.

"It takes a village to come together," he said. "We'll see it [over] the next couple months. If we give more than we receive, it all pays off in the end."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Wishram, Washington.

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