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Investigation begins on cause of Hazen fire

By Steve Ranson

Multiple fire agencies responded to railyard to extinguish burning railroad ties

With the Hazen fire declared officially out Monday morning, state investigators are beginning sifting through the piles of burned railroad ties to determine the cause of the blaze which sent plumes of smoke into the sky and closed U.S. Highway 50A for a period of time.

Fallon/Churchill Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jared Dooley said a media release with input from the unified command reported no injuries and no property damage occurred at the Omaha Track site except for the railroad ties.

Dooley said any smoke hugging western Nevada including the Lahontan Valley is coming from fires in California near Auburn and not the one that occurred in Hazen. 

Churchill County Sheriff Richard Hickox said multiple 911 calls after 4 p.m. advised large stacks of railroad ties in Hazen were on fire. Hickox said the CCSO and the Fallon/Churchill Volunteer Fire Department members responded to find multiple stacks of ties with active visible flame. 

“The dry hot days we are experiencing as well as the amount of fuel and railroad ties that are stacked up in that industrial yard have combined for a very hot and dangerous fire,” he said in a statement.

Dooley said multiple fire departments responded to the fire, which was reported shortly after 4 p.m. on Sept. 7 at the Omaha Track yard located midway between Fallon and Fernley. In addition to the Churchill County fire department and Omaha Track employees, Dooley said other agencies involve with the fire suppression included the North Lyon Fire District, Nevada Division of Forestry, Truckee Meadows Fire Department, Bureau of Land Management and Union Pacific Railroad, which provided fire trains for their Sparks yard that can hold up to 30,000 gallons of water.

“Union Pacific had a good response as well,” Dooley said. “They also have a fire crew.”

Dooley said NDF also two SEATs (Single Engine Airtankers) which worked the northern perimeter.

Dooley said Fallon Churchill provided 37 firefighters and 11 pieces of apparatus to include a foam truck, three engines, three water ends and wo wildland brush trucks. He said seven to eight firefighters remained in Fallon to respond to any fires closer to home.

“Sustained high temperatures and strong winds from a fast-moving storm made it unsafe for crews to continue with that process, so efforts were re-focused to containment within the railyard,” the media release reported. “This was done by creating buffers and moving additional flammable materials away from the path of the fire. Containment was aided by the yard layout and organized state of the facility.”

Once on the scene, the fire crews created buffers and moved additional flammable materials away from the fire’s path. Hazen residents were evacuated on the first day of the fie as a precaution because of a fuel line located within the area.

Dooley said Nevada Highway Patrol and the Nevada Department of Transportation assisted with traffic control on the stretch of U.S. Highway 50A bordering Hazen.

According to the unified command, evidence shows that a likelihood of a natural occurrence combined with extreme temperatures hovering at or slightly above 100 degrees and high winds.

Dooley said the fire was officially called out at 8 a.m. on Monday but some fire crews have remained on standby.

Churchill County emergency management said the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 has set up air monitors in addition to meeting with the key agencies.

“We are having meetings on a daily basis with Omaha Track and the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department,” said Anne McMillin, the county’s public information officer.

Omaha Track’s President Jeff Peterson said the Hazen facility is part of the community.

. “We are committed to maintaining a safe environment for our employees and neighbors, and to keep incidents like this from happening again,” Peterson said.  “We appreciate the support and assistance of local authorities, the Fallon-Churchill Volunteer Fire Departments, Union Pacific Railroad, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the dedicated employees at our Hazen facility.” 

Omaha Track is North America’s largest railroad material recycler. The company reuses, repurposes and recycles railroad materials every day. Hazen is primary a material sorting facility where railroad ties are graded, sorted and sold to customers in the West.

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