A series of fires along the railroad tracks between Oakdale and Riverbank on Monday morning, July 17 saw a coordinated response from multiple units, with five Stanislaus Consolidated stations sending equipment and personnel.
Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Eric DeHart said the first call came in around 9:40 a.m. Monday.
“The investigation did determine that it (the cause) came from the train,” DeHart said of sparks from a passing train on the Sierra railroad line igniting a series of fires.
“Ash (Avenue) was the first fire we had, the last one we had was almost to Langworth, so it was a couple of miles,” DeHart said of the fire’s path.
All the fires were along the tracks, which run parallel to Highway 108 and Patterson Road, with several rural roads running north and south between the two main roads.
“We ended up with a total of six engines, all but one were from Stanislaus Consolidated,” added DeHart.
Oakdale had two engines, Riverbank, Waterford and the Yosemite station by the Fruityard all sent one, with another engine called in for mutual aid from nearby Escalon in San Joaquin County. The engines were in addition to the multiple brush trucks and fire investigators that responded to the scene.
About 20 firefighting personnel were involved in the effort as well, as crews worked their way along the railroad right of way to put out the hot spots.
In one location, just west of Crane Road, passerby Jimmy Rubio of Riverbank joined in with a few other people to jump into action, using garden hoses to wet down a fence protecting a nearby home from the fire on the other side.
“I was driving home and happened to see the fire,” said Rubio, noting that he did some knocking on doors at the home to see if anyone was there. After getting no response, he worked with a few other people to put together a couple of hoses and keep the fence boards wet while firefighters worked on the other side.
DeHart said the firefighting effort was difficult but crews were able to contain the series of fires efficiently.
“It’s tough to get in to the railroad right of way, we had to use the smaller grass and brush trucks so it was more of a challenge,” DeHart explained.
He said crews were able to clear the scene about 1 p.m., only to respond to another fire, this one a vegetation fire on Rodden Road at Red Fox outside Oakdale.
“That was caused by a man mowing his lawn with a riding lawnmower,” DeHart said of the hot machinery sparking the blaze, which covered about an acre and a half.
“We urge people to start early in the morning, have any of that work done by the 10 a.m.,” he said of utilizing equipment that could spark a fire. “Also, have a garden hose, a watering can or an extinguisher nearby so that if a fire does start, you can put it out.”