- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

KEARNY, Ariz. (AP) - A train blasting water was among the resources that helped firefighters make progress Friday in controlling a brush fire near a rural Arizona community.

Arizona State Forestry spokesman Mike Reichling said this was the first time he had seen a train used at the scene of a wildfire. Two Copper Basin Railway cars equipped with water cannons have been blasting hot spots along the Gila River bed near Kearny, about 85 miles southeast of Phoenix. While helicopters and dozers have been tackling the fire, the train has played a key role.

“We work very closely with the firefighters,” Railway President Jake Jacobson said. “We can help to provide them water in remote places.”

The water tank cars, which are only operated by Copper Basin employees, have been focusing on dousing hot spots while they ride the tracks. Each car can hold 15,000 gallons of water and disperse it as far as 250 feet, Jacobson said. The rail tank cars were transformed as water tank cars in the mid-1990s. Based in Hayden, the Arizona short-line railroad stretches 54 miles from Magma to Winkelman.

The wildfire began Wednesday in the dry Gila River bed and has torn through more than 2 square miles of salt cedar trees. Fire officials said it was 40 percent contained and burning away from the town of about 2,000 people. About 300 residents were initially evacuated from their homes, including a trailer park. Reichling said a handful was still not yet allowed to return.

The rail cars were prepped as soon as the railway heard about the fire, Jacobson said. At the start of wildfire season, they are filled with water and undergo maintenance checks. They offer another form of protection for bridges along the tracks as well as buildings in proximity.

“It’s just part of what we do as railroaders and what we do for the community we have the good blessing of running our trains through,” Jacobson said.

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