Tete Jaune resident extinguishes derailment fire

By Andru McCracken


When Neil Mumby saw smoke rising near the Lakes District Maintenance yard, he did what people in his neck of the woods do: he ran towards it.

Mumby said the fire started as a result of a 16-car derailment in the area on May 11.

Mumby was the first on scene and went running with buckets.

“I was really worried it was going to catch the coal on fire,” he said. “Then we’d have one hell of a mess.”

Two fires were burning between 600 and 800 square feet down a steep embankment towards the swamp.

Mumby is a positive guy, so instead of expressing frustration with the rail line he focussed on the good work of the people who helped him.

He said the RCMP showed up and used a fire extinguisher to help quench the blaze.

“The RCMP did a really good job there,” said Mumby. “I’d like to be kind to those guys and the firefighters.”

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Garry Wallace wasn’t on the scene but he said area homeowners are concerned about incidents like this.

He’s part of a group of Tete Jaune homeowners that are working collectively prepare for fires in the area. So far, homeowners have focussed on FireSmarting their properties, but they are also interested in purchasing a fire fighting wagon.

For a number of years the Ministry of Forests had provided a small fire fighting wagon with a thousand litres of water and a fire fighting pump on it, but that’s no longer the case.

“There are so many restrictions; the only thing you can have is a bucket brigade with a little pump and wagon,” said Wallace.

He said if they become too organized, there are a raft of insurance and liability issues.

“The minute you are organized you are liable and insurance might come after you,” said Wallace.

Wallace said that about 24 people showed up to their first meeting and they wrote out a list of names and determined who has what equipment.

He said COVID-19 has slowed the group down. They have had the hall designated as an emergency area and are hoping to get a grant to get sprinklers on the roof.

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Elke Vogelpohl of Mica Mountain Lodge said the derailment was scary, but it’s not uncommon.

“It really freaked me out. It is not acceptable to not service the tracks properly. It was just coal, but if it was gasoline or propane everything would have gone up in smoke,” she said.

She said the company should do better near communities.

“Please make sure your tracks are in good shape alongside every community, there is no excuse for putting business and trains first and the livelihood of people at the end,” she said.

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The derailment in Tete Jaune inflamed the neighbourhood not just literally but figuratively too. Resident Chris Henderson was working two province’s away, when he received word that CN was on his property without his permission and had fallen some trees to gain access.

Henderson was outraged that CN didn’t ask for permission first before entering his property on Jackpine road.

He alerted the police, but they didn’t intervene.

“I never got a phone call from CN,” said Henderson. “The cops won’t do anything, but they are blatantly breaking the law.”
In our May 14th story about the 16 car coal derailment, CN Spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said that there weren’t any fires as a result of the derailment. That was inaccurate.

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