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Coal dust keeps South Heart fire crews busy

Coal dust appears to be the culprit behind several fires this week along the railroad tracks near South Heart, officials said.

South Heart Fire Chief Ken Koppinger said Friday an average of 10 firefighters from the department have responded to the fires that have been flaring up since the beginning of the week, about two-and-a-half miles west of South Heart.

Koppinger said the fires take about an hour to extinguish and have been in different locations along the railroad tracks, but he said the reason for the fire flare-ups is the same.

"The fires were started initially around 4:45 a.m. Saturday by a train with a bad wheel," he said. "But it's so hot out, and the coal dust the trains are carrying blows off as the trains go by and it settles along the tracks and keeps the fires smoldering. When the wind picks up, it just stirs thing back up."

He added that no people or structures have been in danger, but he said nearby landowners are doing what they should by calling the fires in as they spot them.

"We dowsed the flames pretty good and it's out now. Let's hope it stays that way," Koppinger said.

He said fires like this are a problem along the entire railroad system but there is really nothing the railroad company could do to prevent the coal dust from blowing off and igniting the flames.

Koppinger suggests anyone who spots a fire along the tracks immediately call 911.

"When there is that much coal dust, there is not a lot we can do but just keep going out and hitting spots," he said. "You think you have it out though, and then a half-a-day later, it flares up once again."