Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Fire Chief Jessica Bennett directs firefighters from the Union Pacific railroad bed under the Bridge of the Gods. Monitoring train traffic is Union Pacific’s Ramon Enriquez, left.
As of Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Firefighters carried out an unprecedented fire attack method Monday beneath Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks.
Fire hose was lowered to river level from a truck tanker parked on the bridge deck, 140 feet above, to put out a small fire that broke out in debris and brush directly beneath the bridge.
“We’ve never done this before,” said Fire Chief Jessica Bennett. Volunteer Mike Spears lowered the hose to CLFD staffers Tom Cally and Rebecca Gehrman, who had already doused much of the fire, along with Bennett, using buckets of river water and picks and shovels. Gehrman and Cally then waded into the narrow channel between the riverbank and the massive concrete bridge structure, pulling in the hose and working their way up the steep bank, where patches of flames and coals burned among the rocks.
Bennett directed their efforts from above, while a speeding Union Pacific train rolled past less than 10 feet away. Gehrman and Cally worked from river level, the water source coming from overhead, directing hose power at hot spots located mainly on the middle- and upper-areas of the bank.
“Gravity is a very intense force, that’s for sure,” Gehrman said. She described the conditions as “very slippery down there. The rocks are kind of hazardous.”
“A cool learning opportunity,” Cally called it. The operation revealed that three of the hose lengths had holes in them; Bennett said those would be replaced.
Bennett said the fire evidently occurred as a result of welding done earlier in the day on the bridge deck by a Port of Cascade Locks crew. Burning material included pieces of old creosote-soaked railroad ties present on the embankment, according to Bennett. Ramon Enriquez of Union Pacific, who assisted at the scene, said the ties had likely been there for decades. Discarding the material is not the railroad’s modern practice, he said.
The port was scheduled to visit the scene Monday evening after the fire crew’s mop-up, to ensure there was no re-ignition, according to Bennett.
Enriquez said one train was delayed for about a half-hour. He consulted with Bennett and train traffic controllers before giving the signal for the east-bound train to proceed.