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Klamathon Fire Damages Railroads, Threatens Communications

An easily overlooked byproduct of the Klamathon fire is the destruction or threat to lines of transit, communication and utilities that serve communities in the area and far beyond.

Posted: Jul. 7, 2018 1:22 PM
Updated: Jul. 7, 2018 5:01 PM

HORNBROOK, Calif. — As fire crews struggle to contain the spread of the Klamathon Fire, limiting the destruction of homes and loss of life, vital utilities and lines of communication that serve the public in both California and Oregon are already falling victim to the flames.

The Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad (CORP) operates on tracks running between Black Butte, California (just south of Weed) and Springfield, Oregon. Near the communities of Hilt and Hornbrook, those tracks run roughly parallel to I-5. The Klamathon Fire has raged through about 8-12 miles of those tracks so far, according to a CORP spokesperson.

Fortunately, there were no CORP trains scheduled to run through the area of the fire since it began, and none scheduled to run until July 9. The company has been unable to get anyone out to that area yet to assess any potential damage, but they say that all tracks and structures will be inspected before trains begin running again.

"I understand that California officials have confirmed a fatality," said the CORP spokesperson. "Until the fire is over, our primary concern is keeping people out of harm's way; the railroad can be fixed."

Meanwhile, CAL FIRE has expressed concern that Verizon cellular towers near the town of Hornbrook could be under threat. Those towers stand on Horn Peak, among the ridges northeast of the town—many of which the Klamathon Fire has scorched already.

NewsWatch 12 reached out to Verizon for comment on how this could effect cell service in the area, but have not yet received a response. A spokesperson with CAL FIRE said that fire officials have been working closely with the owners of major equipment like this, keeping them apprised of the fire's location and doing their best to keep that equipment intact.

CAL FIRE also has a radio repeater stationed just southeast of Hornbrook on Black Mountain, which has so far remained untouched, but remains under threat if the fire should spread to the south. That repeater is responsible for facilitating radio communications for fire crews in the area.

Some residents of Hornbrook have refused to evacuate, and remain in homes that were untouched by fire. However, both electrical and water services were an early casualty of the Klamathon Fire's passage. Sheriff Jon Lopey said on Friday that crews are working to restore both services to the area.

At least one Hornbrook resident, however, has expressed frustration with the efforts of the local water utility company, which they say has not accepted offers from local volunteers willing to help restore clean water to the town.

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