Westwood’s Fire Train

Westwood's Fire Train courtesy of Doug Luff
Westwood’s Fire Train courtesy of Doug Luff

The winter of 1923-24,  was one of the driest on record in California. That summer another record would be broken–forest fires. It was June, 1924, when the Red River Lumber Company having been in operation for over a decade experienced its first major forest fire. The fire broke out at Chester Flats between Camps 34 and 38 and burned a narrow strip of land, eight miles in length. Red River’s loss was minimal as the fire burned recently logged over land and the only significant damage was 500 cords of wood burned along 1,000 feet of railroad track. Red River considered its biggest loss was to the men fighting the fire which cost the company a $1,000 a day in wages, and it took a week to contain the fire.

It was from this episode Red River decided there was room for improvement in dispatching aid to fight fires. Thus, one of Red River’s most interesting innovations was born—the fire train. It was a relatively simple affair, where a boxcar was converted into a pump unit with two high-pressured nozzles on the roof. Inside the car, a 150 horsepower steam engine drove a centrifugal pump. The water supply consisting of two tank cars, each with a capacity of 10,000 gallons. Another car was equipped with a variety of tools, such as axes and shovels, along with a thousand feet of hose to reach well beyond the train.

fire train
Another view, courtesy of Doug Luff

The train came in handy many times. However, it was no match for the fire that started at Butt Valley, on July 17, 1926 where Red River was logging. Sparks of a steam donkey engine ignited a fire which spread rapidly over the recently logged over lands toward the west shore of Lake Almanor. For a time the fire threatened the Lake Almanor Inn at Prattville and the various cottages adjacent to it, requiring the evacuation of seventy-five campers. The fire burned over 16,000 acres, and destroyed three abandoned logging camps and several miles of railroad ties. Red River estimated its loss at $23,000.

One of the more spectacular fires for the fire train to be dispatched to was the Bailey Creek trestle. On September 13, 1937 the wooden trestle caught fire, apparently started from a spark from a brake shoe on a flat car. The fire train was brought in carrying some 20,000 gallons of water, but upon its arrival it was too late and the trestle could not be saved.[1]

The fire train it should be noted also provided assistance to their business neighbors, the Fruit Growers Supply Company and Lassen Lumber & Box Company whenever they experienced fires in their territory. In many instances, Red River would send as many as 500 men to assist with fire fighting. December 1943 was the last time the fire train was deployed when the dining room at Camp Bunyan was destroyed by fire.

[1] The trestle was not replaced. In its place an earthen fill containing some 50,000 cubic yards of rock and dirt was used instead.

Support this site and Subscribe today!

2 thoughts on “Westwood’s Fire Train”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *