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Railroad-tie pile continues to smolder

Owner Wal-Mart hires contractor to help Valley Fire Department

The pile of railroad ties that caught fire Thursday evening next to the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds continued to smolder Friday.

The property is owned by Wal-Mart, which has hired an independent contractor to assist the Spokane Valley Fire Department.

“We are still not sure what started the fire,” said Spokane Valley Fire Marshal Kevin Miller.

The decision to let it burn was made after consulting with the Washington state Department of Ecology.

“Because there is creosote on the ties it takes copious amounts of water to put out a fire like that,” said Miller. “We had to weigh the risk of leaching pollutants into the aquifer against any health risk associated with the smoke.” He said most of the smoke was going straight up and dissipating – not drifting over the fairgrounds or nearby neighborhoods.

“As soon as the site is safe to enter, the owner must make an assessment of ash, debris and soil to determine if there is any contamination,” said Curt Hart, a state Ecology Department spokesman. “We put the onus on the owner of the property – the owner must clean up any contamination.”

Wal-Mart purchased the property two years ago from Union Pacific Railroad.

“We bought it as is. It was a 40-by-60-foot pile of ties that was left here, and there was some railroad equipment left behind, too,” said Jennifer Spall, public affairs manager for Wal-Mart. “We had no plans for the property right now. At one point we looked at making it into a Sam’s Club, but we had not done anything to the property.”