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Smoking likely caused train trestle fire, TVF&R says

Four charged in trestle's burning, three of them children.


 PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: DOUG BURKHARDT - Here's what the Sherwood trestle looked Aug. 28 when the fire had been put out and the remainder of the structure torn down.  Photographer Doug Burkhardt was facing west from the chemical company side of the trestle.Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue investigators say that reckless smoking was likely the cause of a massive fire that destroyed a decades old train trestle in Sherwood last month.

Sherwood Police said Wednesday that three juveniles seen near the trestle at the time of the fire were charged with reckless burning. Joshua Deibert, 27, was also charged in the crime. He faces one count of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: DOUG BURKHARDT - The fire destoyed the trestle, along with eight acres of wetland. It's not clear whether the trestle will be rebuilt, Portland & Western said.The Gazette does not print the names of juveniles charged with crimes, unless they are charged as adults.

The case was investigated by Sherwood Police and TVF&R after the 600-foot-long trestle ignited on Aug. 10.

The fire began in a field near Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road east of Langer Farms Parkway, not far from Oregon Street.

News crews across the country covered the story as the creosote-soaked railroad ties blazed throughout the night and into the next day. About eight acres of wetland around the trestle were also destroyed.

The second-alarm fire was battled by 50 firefighters, one of whom was injured when his leg was trapped under a railroad tie.

The fire forced evacuations of nearby businesses as firefighters worked to get the blaze under control. Firefighters warned 7,000 nearby neighbors to keep their windows and doors closed for two days in order to keep from breathing hazardous air as the trestle burned.

Sherwood Police spokesman Ty Hanlon said that the fire was caused accidently.

“There was no intent to start the fire, but between the summer heat, a bunch of grass, the embers and not taking care of cigarette butts in appropriate manner, it ultimately caught fire.”

The three teenaged boys charged in the fire were between 15 to 17 years old and lived in the Sherwood area, Hanlon said.

Reckless burning and furnishing alcohol to minors are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $6,200 fine.

The investigation lasted for several weeks as fire investigators and police detectives worked together to solve it, Hanlon said.

“It was such a big fire, we wanted to make sure that we got it right,” Hanlon said. “That took a little longer. TVF&R needed to do their part of the investigation into the origin and we needed to back that up with a strong investigation and witnesses to put it together.”

When and if the Portland & Western Railroad will replace the trestle remains up in the air.

“The Portland & Western Railroad take these matters very seriously, especially with an incident such as this, that endangers the safety of our community and our employees,” said Carla Groleau, assistant vice president of government affairs for Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc., which acquired Portland and Western Railroad in 1995. “The company will cooperate closely with law enforcement in every way we can. We continue to evaluate plans for the trestle, which are not urgent since customers are not affected by its loss, as well as to assess costs.”

History of fires

COURTESY OF TUALATIN VALLEY FIRE AND RESCUE - The Sherwood trestle was completely destroyed by fire Aug. 10 and 11. Careless cigerette smoking by teens and an adult was the likely culprit.

The area surrounding the rain trestle and property off of Oregon Street has long been a problem area involving juveniles and fires.

In 2013, 60 acres of brush near Oregon Street were burned, sending 40 firefighters to the scene. The blaze was started by four juveniles setting off fireworks. All four were charged with criminal trespass and two were charged with reckless burning and criminal mischief.

The area was also the site of the largest structure fire in Sherwood in the last decade.

On March 24, 2005, a fire ignited at the former Sherwood Tannery/Frontier Leather building just off of Oregon Street. That fire consumed two-thirds of the 300-by-150-foot commercial structure before it was brought under control by about 50 firefighters.

Three teenagers were arrested and charged with arson and reckless burning in that case.

The building was vacant at the time and had been scheduled for demolition.

The building had caught fire previously. A 1981 fire caused $700,000 in damage to the building in a three-alarm fire that resulted in the collapse of part of the tannery roof, the destruction of a leather-drying room and shipping area.

--- Sherwood Gazette Editor Ray Pitz contributed to this story