News 12 at 11 o'clock / Sunday, May 20, 2012
CLARKS HILL, S.C. -- It was a frantic day for several Clarks Hill neighbors after sparks from a train coming through town caused a number fires to break out.
Three fire departments were out battling the blaze along the railroad tracks on Sunday. There were seven fires in just a mile and a half.
This all started early Sunday afternoon when witnesses say they saw sparks coming off the wheels of a CSX train, starting fires around them.
On Sunday evening, they were still fighting the blaze.
"I just saw smoke everywhere; it was smoke coming from about three different directions," said neighbor Angelia Siebert.
Hours later that smoke still smoldered.
"Luckily it was on the other side of the tracks, not on the side where our house is, so it wouldn't catch our houses on fire 'cause that was my biggest worry," Siebert said.
Around noon a train came down the tracks, shooting sparks off the wheels.
"He called me and told me to call 911 'cause he just saw sparks come from the train and he said he saw it in three different places," Siebert said.
Fire officials say this isn't uncommon.
"It's pretty well common at night, any time of the day, whenever a train goes by, whatever schedule they have, we're just likely to have it whenever it's really dry like this," said Clarks Hill Fire Chief Billy Ryan.
But to cause seven fires within a mile and a half doesn't happen often.
"I didn't think it'd be a great fire day just because of the rain we've had in the past few days," said Tony Ashley, who has been a fire warden for the South Carolina Forestry Commission for almost 30 years.
He says before the rain, this fire would have spread faster and they would've needed to call in more units.
"If it'd been last week, it would've been a lot worse," Ashley said.
He spent the afternoon cutting control lines around the fires to stop them from spreading.
"You never know from one day to the next what it's gonna be," he said.
Ashley says the fire departments did a great job keeping this one under control.
"You can see the fast response from the fire department helped keep these fires from spreading," he said.
Fire trucks came from Modoc, Parksville and Clarks Hill. They are all volunteer fire departments and right now they are all in big need of volunteers.
We tried to call CSX, but no one answered the call. We were told though that the trains stopped running for about 40 minutes after the fires started.