Huge blaze engulfs railroad tie recycling plant in Alabama

Published 2:38 pm Monday, August 2, 2021

A fire that apparently started with a lightning strike and grew so large it showed up on weather radar engulfed a pile of thousands of railroad ties at a recycling plant in rural west Alabama.

The blaze at National Salvage and Services Corp., which started Sunday evening and was still going Monday, didn’t injure anyone, fire officials said. Authorities hoped that rain from passing storms would at least keep the flames contained.

The company wasn’t sure how much was lost.

“We’re gathering facts and trying to learn as much as we can,” said Tim Rushenberg, a spokesman at company headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana.

The company yard at Burnsville typically holds “thousands upon thousands” of chemically treated railroad ties that are ground up and used for fuel, primarily in industrial boilers, Rushenberg said.

An apparent lighting strike started the fire about 6 p.m. Sunday and neither rain nor the work of firefighters stopped it from growing, said Billy Barrett, chief of the Valley Grande Volunteer Fire Department.

“We put about 50,000 gallons of water on it and it didn’t faze it,” he said.

Video and photos shared on social media by the Valley Grande Volunteer Fire Department and others showed the fire growing from a small blob atop a giant pile of ties to a massive blaze that burned long past dark and turned the night sky orange. Forecasters said the smoke plume was so large it appeared on radar.

Fire crews eventually had to move away and let the fire burn because the flames grew so large and hot, Barrett said.

“With all that creosote and all, it’s going to burn for awhile. It could burn for days, maybe a week,” he said.

The company is working with fire and environmental officials to determine what to do next, Rushenberg said.