I had just gotten out of the library, to return a couple things and pick up a CD on the hold shelf for me, and was driving to my next stop, which was the grocery store. I had just reached the corner of Antelope and Watt, and was glancing left to check for cars before I made a right turn when I saw it. A huge plume of smoke trailed up into the sky in the southwest, in the general direction of what once was McClelland AFB. If I had been in Redding, and this had been the height of summer, a plume of smoke that large would only mean one thing -- a forest fire had started, and a pretty big one at that. But this was a March evening in Sacramento, and while the weather's been a bit warm, it's nowhere near the heat of the dog days of summer. Besides, forest fires generally don't start out quite that dark -- forests burn a bit more grey.
McClelland's old runways are still used for private planes and Coast Guard vehicles, so my first though was that a plane had crashed and burned at the south end of the old air force base. So I drove back to Elkhorn, which is the northern boundary of McClelland, and thus has a straight sightline down the runway, at which point, I discovered that the fire was much further away than that -- and much, much bigger. It was in the general direction of downtown, a fact which spooked me. Downtown is where most of the important stuff is.
Driving back to the grocery store, somewhat concerned about all of this, it dawns on me that Sacramento is a big enough city to warrant traffic updates on the radio. So I tuned to one station that I know does their traffic reports about every fifteen minutes and listened. And sure enough, the Capital City Freeway is running slow. Now, the Cap City always runs slow -- it was supposed to be part of Interstate 80 until they found it was cheaper to drive 80 across the north end of town and out to Roseville than it was to upgrade the Cap City to interstate standard, and we've been left with the results of that decision for a long time.
But this time, the Cap City was running slow because of a fire down near Cal Expo that involved some railroad ties. Now, railroad ties burn black -- the wood preserving agent is a coal tar. I didn't think much about this, but if I had given some consideration to the thought, I'd have realized that a few railroad ties wouldn't be enough to give off that much smoke. That's because it wasn't a bunch of railroad ties -- it was a whole fucking railroad trestle.
It's the sort of thing that's nearly unprecedented. We all see these trestles around us, and usually we don't pay them much attention. They get the trains where they're going. Sometimes, they get turned into bike trails. Nothing really all that surprising, right? The thing is, when they catch on fire they go up in spectacular fashion, as we learned in Sacramento today. The firefighters think it will be days before the fire burns itself out, and then months while Union Pacific rebuilds the trestle. It's not like this was a mostly ignored rail segment, either. This is the main line running between the Bay Area and points east and north of it.
It's probably not surprising the blaze is considered 'suspicious'.
If you're curious, here's the News10 and SacBee[Edit: Bad link. It appears to be here now, but it really strikes me as odd that SacBee moves stories like that.] stories. (The SacBee one will need registration, nukefree/nukefree should get you in.) I stole pictures from both stories to illustrate this.