CORP and the 2013 Fires
Last Updated: August 5, 2013 (scroll down for updates)
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The early morning hours of Friday, July 26, 2013 brought a dry lightning storm to Josephine and Douglas Counties. While there were about 600 down strikes altogether, a disproportionate of which hit in the area of Cow Creek Canyon between Glendale and Riddle. A number of smaller fires burned together to form two main fires, the Rabbit Mountain/Union Creek Fire in the area around West Fork and the Dad's Creek/Panther Butte Fire around Reuben. These fires are part of what is now called the Douglas Complex with management teams from Oregon Department of Forestry overseeing firefighting operations with private contract crews from the Pacific Northwest and a number of other states. As of today, over 21,000 acres have burned in the Douglas Complex and around 30,000 acres in southwest Oregon.
So, how did CORP fare in the inferno? The bridge over Cow Creek (just south or SP west) of West Fork burned. This is the bridge south bound trains pass over right after crossing the highway and immediately before diving into Tunnel 2 (view from the opposite end in 2000 ). The photo below was taken by CORP personnel out inspecting the line on Monday, July 29. Most obvious are the missing ties and warping of rail and smaller pieces of steel. Also, note the slight sag. The trees in the background appear to have survived the fire which is evidence that the fire did not burn particularly hot right here. Other smaller trestles may have suffered damage as well. There were several minor slides and a few other lesser issues.
As the month of July comes to an end, the Siskiyou Line between Glendale and Ashland is without connection to the rest of the country. Whether this bridge can be repaired or whether CORP and Genesee & Wyoming reconsider reopening the south end will be played out in the next few days. The Summer of 2013 is shaping up to be an interesting one. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, July 31 Update
After inspection yesterday (July 30), it was found that the steel is still good and that the deck ties will be replaced as soon as crews can get access to the area and begin work. Any thought of reopening the south end was sheer, unfounded (railfan) speculation and will not happen for a couple more years. Two truckloads of bridge ties are expected to arrive today. Materials and crews are being lined up and staged so that once the Incident Commander of the Douglas Complex gives the okay, work will commence.
Another view of the bridge from the opposite end looking towards Tunnel 2.
Friday, August 2 Update
A couple maps appeared today showing the boundaries of the Rabbit Mountain and Dad's Creek fires. Each large block shows a one mile square (640 acre) section, color coded by ownership (tan for BLM, blue and purple for private timber companies). The yellow dots along the railroad are mile posts (some of which even have mile numbers).
On the left is Rabbit Mountain. The bright red dot is the location of the Middle Creek bridge. To the right (five or six miles south east of the Rabbit Mountain map) is Dad's Creek. Glendale is about five miles east of the Dad's Creek fire.
The Portland and Western Railroad's bridge crew will be handling the repairs of the Middle Creek bridge. The P&W has always been owned by Genesee and Wyoming, which also acquired CORP recently. Once allowed into the canyon this work is expected to take just three days.
Other damage in the canyon include issues such as fallen trees. CORP's crews will be handling damage like this as well as some minor slides in the canyon.
A little good news. Yesterday (August 1), the Douglas County Sheriff's Office has downgraded the evacuation order for residences in the area around Reuben west of Glendale. This the area burned by the Dad's Creek fire, which also involved a couple miles of railroad. However, the danger isn't over and residents are being told to remain vigilant and prepared for another evacuation order if conditions deteriorate. Fire operations are continuing in the area and the public is NOT being allowed in.
Finally, some personal observations: As is evident from the photos above, the fires did not burn hot and heavy in the bottom lands where the railroad and BLM road run. Many of the trees appear to have escaped unscathed. Most of the tunnels have either been coated with gunnite or are of blasted rock, so damage to them was not to be expected. So, the fact that the railroad emerged largely intact is not surprising. The Middle Creek bridge ties were ignited by embers raining down from higher up the mountain, not by direct flame contact or radiant heat.
Those of us who are students of the railroad in Cow Creek Canyon are well aware of its instability over the decades. We've learned of the work train, alleged to be full of Chinese laborers, that was buried by a slide just south (SP west) of the Middle Creek bridge. In fact the very crossing at Middle Creek was necessitated by this slide as the Southern Pacific elected to rebuild on the opposite side of Cow Creek instead of fighting the less stable terrain of the original route. In the past seven days, thousands of acres have burned on lands adjacent to and above the railroad. Trees and brush, the roots of which once held back loose soils and rocks, have died. When the winter rains come there will be a lot of unstable debris ready to break loose. One major winter storm through this region could cause damages well in excess of what CORP has suffered during the fires. The saga of Cow Creek Canyon continues.
Monday August 5 Update:
Repair crews were allowed into Cow Creek Canyon today to begin repairs to the Middle Creek bridge and to other spots on the railroad. CORP is aiming to start running trains through the Canyon again on Thursday night.
Personal observation: The Medford yard is filling up with loads ready to go north. It's almost like it was 1988 again! The first few trains between Medford and Dillard should be doozies. Apparently the only CORP locomotive south of Cow Creek Canyon is the 2005 (the GP20D in "Railtex" red and gray).
More updates to follow as reliable information becomes available.
A couple stories from years past about Cow Creek Canyon and why some of us are so fascinated by it:
|Riding with Rick||A hy-rail trip through Cow Creek Canyon with Signal Maintainer Rick Perry|
|Canyon Solitude||Photo-essay during the depths of winter|