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Staff photo, Shea Johnson
Personnel from a Union Pacific hazardous materials team and MCLB and Yermo/Calico fire departments work to maintain a "spontaneous ignition" of coal after it was dumped from a UP rail car in Yermo on Thursday.

Spontaneous ignition

Railcar carrying coal sparks hazardous concern for local authorities


YERMO • A railcar carrying approximately 132 tons of coal had to be flipped over Thursday afternoon when the coal “spontaneously ignited” and provided threat of a possible hazardous situation.

Multiple agencies responded to Union Pacific Railroad’s Yermo facility at about 9 a.m. after someone near the yard discovered white smoke billowing from the railcar, Marine Corps Logistics Base Fire Chief Donald Simard said.

Although there were no visible flames, the temperature of the coals — estimated to have reached between 800 and 1000 degrees, according to Simard — could have ignited nearby cars.

The burning coal could have also presented a hazardous threat to the contents of the nearby cars, Simard explained.

An ensemble of personnel from MCLB, Fort Irwin, Barstow, Daggett and Yermo/Calico fire departments, Daggett Airport, railroad police and a UP hazardous materials team were on scene at various points during a seven-hour effort to isolate the car from the others.

Two heavy-duty booms, which were brought in piggy-backed on 18-wheelers, eventually were able to flip the car and dump the coal to the ground.

The UP hazardous materials team would “spread out the coal and soak it down to make sure (the fire) is all out,” Simard said, then use equipment to return the car to the tracks and the coal to the car.

The team was expected to continue the effort through Friday, according to Simard.

Yermo/Calico Fire Chief Bob Smith credited the multiple agencies involved with mitigating what could have turned into a larger issue.

“It could not have been accomplished without this combined effort,” he said.

Shea Johnson can be reached at or 760-256-4126.

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