Witness: train was malfunctioning before fire

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Buffalo fire investigators believe a rash of brush fires along CSX tracks, from the Eastside to Black Rock, was touched off by a malfunctioning train, and now a witness is telling a story that would support the investigators.

A train, making its way along CSX railroad tracks next to Kohl’s department store at the Delaware Hertel Plaza in North Buffalo, caught Tracee Mobley’s attention.

“I saw the train approaching, and it did not sound right to me”, recalled Mobley, who was going into Kohl’s to pay a bill, and was distracted by the loud sound of metal grinding against metal.

Minutes later, she and other shoppers were startled by a noise so loud, the ground shook, and fire broke out along a fence next to the railroad tracks.

“That’s when people were like, frantically, like, ‘Oh no, something has happened, something is on fire,’ and went outside, and there’s flames all along the track, all along the track.”

Mobley snapped off a couple of pictures with her cell phone, one of several brush and rubbish fires along the CSX railroad tracks that kept Buffalo firefighters busy most of the afternoon.

Hot spots included the fire next to Kohl’s; and another brush fire a couple of blocks away, off Linden Avenue; a large vacant lot behind the Sodexo laundry facility on Grider Street; and a charred expanse of vegetation and rubbish along the tracks at the end of Saint Florian Street in Black Rock.

Buffalo Fire Department Division Chief James LaMacchia suspects a train with some type of malfunction sparked the fires.

“Apparently a train traveling the tracks was either sparking or spraying some type of fire out of it, and it started a grass fire along the tracks,” he said.

All of the fires burned on property owned by CSX Corporation, but a spokesman for CSX says their trains had nothing to do with the fires.

In a brief written statement, Director of Media Relations Robert Sullivan wrote, “We did multiple inspections of the train that had been in the immediate vicinity and nothing was found that would have been related to the fires.”

While damage was minimal, the fires did come very close to homes and businesses, singeing utility poles next to Kohl’s, and causing a few scary moments. Mobley recalled, the noise sounded like an explosion, but feared it could have been worse.

“At first I thought it might have been an earth tremor because occasionally we have experienced those here,” she said.

It is important to point out, the tracks are owned by CSX, but trains owned and operated by other companies use the company’s rights-of-way. So it is possible a train did set off those fires, but the train would not have been owned by CSX.

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