Brush fire near Horseshoe Curve derails train schedule, causes delays

A brush fire at the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark delayed trains and tied up firefighters Wednesday afternoon as tourists watched and snapped photographs.

The fire – described by responders as small but hard to reach – burned in a wooded area along an escarpment, drawing attention from train-watchers atop the Horseshoe Curve’s steep incline.

Firefighters had to scale a wooded hill to reach the flames and rappel to their vehicles below, but none were injured, Logan Township United Fire Department Deputy Chief Rusty Shoenfelt said.

Working in the park gift shop, Erica Strang said patrons saw smoke after 1 p.m. and rushed to tell her.

“Some had pictures – I knew they were concerned,” Strang said. “I called the police pretty quick.”

Norfolk Southern held trains nearby while firefighters from Logan Township’s Kittanning Trail and Newburg fire companies made their way through the woods.

Train enthusiasts from as far as Reading and Ohio watched with interest, some taking photographs and applauding as the thin column of smoke disappeared.

A Norfolk Southern employee said the fire caused minor train delays. With word that the fire was beaten and the tracks cleared of firefighters, several consecutive trains rushed around the Curve about 3 p.m.

“Any time you stop a train that’s not supposed to be stopped, that’s costing them money,” Shoenfelt said.

The fire’s cause is unknown, Shoenfelt said, but small brush fires along wooded railroads are common. With no lightning in the sky and no one spotted in the area, a spark from a passing train is a possible cause, he said.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have numerous fires a year along the Norfolk Southern main line,” he said.

Among those watching from across the tracks, some described the fire as an interesting diversion, even if it delayed the machines they’d gone to see.

“No,” a Norfolk Southern employee shouted as the spectators applauded. “You want trains. You don’t want fire trucks.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.