Towering flames engulfed several train cars loaded with railroad ties in San Luis Obispo early Wednesday morning in a case the Fire Department is calling suspicious.
Firefighters responded to the fires at about 3 a.m. They occurred in five rail cars that were loaded with railroad ties.
"Usually, a fire that started in one car would burn outwards toward the other two," said San Luis Obispo Deputy Fire Chief Keith Aggson, noting that even though the rail cars were joined together, not all the cars were burning. "It's unusual because they were skipped the way they were."
He also said the railroad ties had been stacked in the cars for a couple of weeks, and officials had no reason to believe the fire had been caused by a mechanical spark.
Aggson, who called the fire "suspicious in nature," said the city's arson team is investigating the fire along with Union Pacific law enforcement. An official cause of the fire has not yet been determined, he said.
Each of the rail cars was carrying approximately 180,000 pounds of material, Aggson said.
Firefighters responded from San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay and were assisted by Cal Fire as well, Aggson said.
The fires were the second suspicious case involving railroad ties in recent months, Aggson said. Another fire occurred about six months ago.
That fire was much smaller — only half a rail car-load of material — and involved a pile of railroad ties being set on fire not far from Wednesday's blaze, in an area near Roundhouse Street, Aggson said.