Woodland firefighters, police investigate suspicious boxcar fire

Woodland firefighters, police investigate suspicious boxcar fire

Photo Credits: JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

Fire crews able to suppress a train car fire before it ignited a nearby diesel tanker

Woodland firefighters and police are investigating a suspicious fire that erupted in a boxcar on the evening of Dec. 26, according to Woodland fire officials. Fire crews were able to suppress the fire quickly before it reached a nearby oil tanker containing diesel fuel.

At about 6:15 p.m., dispatchers received a report of a train car on fire near East Main and Thomas streets, said Woodland Fire Marshal Emily Richter. The entire fire crew at the station responded to the scene, while firefighters from nearby stations provided coverage for the city of Woodland.

“Thirteen firefighters responded to this incident, so that’s all of our station here in Woodland,” Richter said. “City of Davis Fire Department and Willow Oaks [Fire Protection District] provided coverage for the city while we were at this incident.”

Once the Woodland crew reached the fire, flames from the blazing boxcar were encroaching on a nearby fuel tanker. Unsure of the contents of the burning boxcar and the tanker, fire crews protected the tank car and attempted to suppress the flames from the outside, Richter said.

Footage of the scene recorded and posted on Youtube by Jim Smith of the Daily Democrat shows the still-smoking boxcar at about 7:15 p.m.. In the video, the fire crew is preparing to open up doors of the car to access the inside. Smith reported that an oil tanker with then-unknown contents stood just beyond the boxcar, out of sight of his camera. The fire crew was concerned that potentially hazardous materials in either car might pose a threat to the surrounding community. Initially, however, firefighters were unable gain access to the interior of the sealed boxcar.

“They’ve notified environment services, they’ve notified the train personnel and all that, to try to get here so they can gain access to this,” Smith said. “Again, they did get the fire knocked down fairly quickly, but they don’t know the contents of what’s inside of here. Until they can actually get inside of it and extinguish from the inside-out, if you will, then it’s going to continue burning.”

A press release from the Woodland Fire Department reported that crews eventually forced their way into the boxcar. Once the firefighters gained entry, the contents were determined to be not hazardous. Battalion Chief Eric Zane said in the press release that personnel later learned the boxcar was used for storage by the Yolo Shortline Railroad, while the oil tanker was found to contain some diesel fuel.

“According to the Yolo Short Line [sic] Railroad representative, the box car was used as  storage for the railroad company, the tank car on the other hand is less than 25 percent full of diesel fuel,” Zane said in the release.

Zane went on to encourage Yolo County citizens to sign up for the local emergency alert system. If the boxcar fire had indeed posed a risk to the nearby residents, fire personnel would have used this countywide alert system to send out emergency notifications via phone and email.

“Had there been a need to inform residents about the fire and potential protective actions, Yolo-Alert is the tool we would use to do so,” Zane said.

As of Monday, Jan. 7, police and fire personnel were still working together to determine the cause of the blaze. Richter confirmed the circumstances around the fire were suspicious, and a joint police and fire investigation was still underway at the time of publication.

“I’ve talked to the primary investigator — between Woodland PD and Woodland Fire, they conducted a joint investigation,” Richter said. “That is still in progress, that’s the most recent update I’ve gotten.”

Written by: Tim Lalonde — city@theaggie.org