Wildfires were a constant consideration during the dry and hot seasons at Fort Eustis, and special care had to be taken with ash pans and spark screens (spark arresters) on steam locomotives and with carbon deposits breaking loose and flying from diesel-electric locomotives. Train crews were cautioned to be alert to defects or operating conditions that could lead to the setting of fires and to take corrective or ameliorating action to remove or minimize the chances of setting a trackside fire.
For the same reason, combustible rubbish would not be allowed to accumulate on railroad property. During wet, rainy weather when there was no danger of setting fires, the diesel locomotives were to be assigned heavier “tonnage” trains so the additional horsepower requirements would allow the clearing of carbon deposits. Such was the degree of the carbon spark problem that the 714th TBROS&DE had to monitor it and make tonnage assignments as necessary and practicable to keep it under control. In fact, the operations sergeant (“S-3”) of the 714th TBROS&DE stated that the fire hazard from the diesel carbon sparks was significantly greater than that from the steam locomotive ash.
In addition, steam locomotives were not to enter the east end of the Steam Shop at Hanks Yard or be used to switch the 763rd TB(RS) rip track because of the fire hazard posed by the diesel refueling point nearby. A similar hazard existed at Patton on the Mulberry Island Subdivision due to the proximity of gasoline tanks at the east switch; engines were to be allowed to “drift” past this location whenever possible to minimize the chances of ejecting sparks or ash.
The Commanding Officer, Company A, 714th TBROS&DE formulated and maintained a “Railroad Firefighting Plan” in case the Fort Eustis Fire Department needed assistance in combating a blaze on or near railroad property or in areas of the post accessible by rail. This plan encompassed the use of soldiers from both the 714th TBROS&DE and the 763rd TB(RS), common firefighting tools, tank cars filled with water, and any necessary locomotives with crews. Train crews were cautioned to be watchful for fires near the tracks or in the surrounding areas, extinguishing unattended fires if possible. If putting out the fire was not possible, the crews were instead to notify the Fort Eustis Fire Department; all fires were to be reported, regardless of whether or not the train crews could extinguish them first.
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