Special to SEGAZINE
In all there were eight Glynn County fire crews, one Georgia Pacific crew, one Brantley County crew, one Camden County crew and several crews from the forestry commission working to fight the fires that spread out along roughly five miles of track. Filling in for the Glynn County crews at the stations were Brunswick and McIntosh County fire departments.
A train serving Colonel’s Island Wednesday left a trail of fire in the woods along the rails in southwestern Glynn County that threatened homes and prompted a regionwide fire-fighting response.
Residents in a neighborhood nestled by the tracks worked with shovels to smother smoldering patches of fire while others stood guard with garden hoses.
The rescuing cavalry included the Georgia Forestry Commission, which cut fire breaks with its bulldozers along the railroad tracks, and firefighting units from Glynn, Camden and Brantley counties, which battled flames fueled by dry woodlands.
In the chaos, no injuries were reported and damage to structures was limited to small yard shed.
The Glynn County Fire Department began receiving calls around 4:30 p.m. about small grass fires along the railroad tracks connecting the Georgia Ports Authority’s Colonel’s Island Terminal to national and international markets.
By 9:30 p.m., the fire was mostly out.
When units arrived, they discovered a string of fires lining the tracks in areas where the railroad line crosses the Turtle River near Green and Hopewell creeks to near its intersection with Ga. 303, said Deputy Chief Hal Herndon of the Glynn County Fire Department.
Firefighting teams focused their efforts on the tracks near the quiet neighborhood of mostly ranch-style homes, mainly in areas where the tracks cross paved surfaces like Emanuel Loop, Radcliffe Road and Fish Hall Road, to prevent flames from reaching the homes.
The fire was just a few hundred yards from her home on Avondale Court, where Mechelle Lewis and her teenage sons watched as the pine trees across the tracks from the cul-de-sac where they live sent flames shooting high into the air, producing a massive column of smoke.
“We’ve seen small (fires) before, but nothing this big,” Lewis said.
About an hour after she first saw the flames, she watched as her sons Noah Lewis, 13, Caleb Lewis, 15, and Zachary Lewis, 18, shoveled sand, dirt and gravel on the smoldering remains of fires that had jumped the tracks.
Across the tracks, the crackle of flames flared up periodically as the forestry commission continued to cut breaks.
Michelle Tucker, who lives on nearby Fish Hall Road, said she saw the smoke on her way home from work. After picking up her children, just a few minutes after first seeing the smoke, Tucker said the flames had grown substantially.
Standing with Mechelle Lewis, she looked down the tracks about a mile to the west where firefighters were feverishly fighting larger blazes.
They questioned how the fire started from a passing train.
“How does a train not know that was happening?” Tucker said.
According to emergency radio communication, the train was eventually stopped by the fire department near where the railroad tracks cross Andy Tostenson and Fancy Bluff roads, less than a mile from the Colonel’s Island Terminal and the port’s bustling auto-processing facilities.
After shoveling sand and dirt onto smaller spot fires, Dustin Lindsay, who grew up in the area, said he was not surprised to see some grow much larger. He has seen it before.
“I’ve seen it. Trains come through here all the time throwing sparks,” Lindsay said.
Deputy Chief Herndon said around 6:45 p.m. that the fires had been contained but said there was still plenty of work to do.
“We’ll probably be out here for quite a while,” Herndon said, pausing as he talked to listen to his radio and communicate with his crews.
In all he said there were eight Glynn County fire crews, one Georgia Pacific crew, one Brantley County crew, one Camden County crew and several crews from the forestry commission working to fight the fires that spread out along roughly five miles of track. Filling in for the Glynn County crews at the stations were Brunswick and McIntosh County fire departments, Herndon added.
As the sun began to set, a forestry commission plane and helicopter flew overhead as the firefighters spread out along the tracks, waiting for the help of a 33,000 gallon railroad tanker equipped with a water cannon to arrive on the scene.