By Paul Tennant
---- — ANDOVER — Five brush fires along the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority tracks near Lowell Junction Road caused numerous delays in train service yesterday afternoon.
The delays were from 20 to 70 minutes, according to Scott Farmelant, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which runs the trains for the MBTA. At least eight trains, inbound and outbound, were affected, Farmeland said.
While Andover firefighters were battling the flames along the commuter line, another brush fire broke out on Regency Ridge. That blaze was unrelated to the fires along the tracks, according to fire Deputy Chief James Dolan.
Those fires were caused by a carload of old railroad ties that ignited around noon, Dolan said. Construction workers were widening a railroad bridge near Connector Road so the MBTA can lay double tracks along the Haverhill line, he said.
The workers removed the old ties and loaded them into several cars, which an MBTA engine began hauling away to get rid of them, Dolan said. The train headed south and when it was a few hundred yards past the Gillette plant at 30 Burtt Road, the engineer saw the smoke and flames coming from the car right behind the engine.
“He stopped the train,” Dolan said, put the engine in reverse and backed the train off the main line and into a spur. By that time, the deputy chief said, five brush fires had started along the tracks. He estimated the fires extended over about three-quarters of a mile.
There were no injuries and no significant property damage, Dolan said. The cause of the fires was not known last night, he added.
One of the fires burned a large area behind a Market Basket warehouse, but firefighters stopped it before it could do any damage, he said.
Firefighters had to dig holes under the tracks so they could bring the hoses to the fires, Dolan said. In one spot, they had to lay 1,400 feet of hose.
While getting at the fires was a challenge, a nearby pond actually helped the firefighters. Using a flow pump, they drafted water from the pond to pour on the fires.
By 6 p.m., the fires were out. Engines 1 and 2 and a forestry truck from the Andover Fire Department knocked the fires down with assistance from Wilmington and North Reading firefighters.
The Lawrence and North Reading fire departments covered the stations while the local crews attacked the fires.
“Several trains were delayed during the early and mid-afternoon hours as a result of orders from local fire officials to halt service on the Haverhill line and later, after 2:15 p.m., to restrict train speeds,” Farmelant wrote in an email. “Both are standard procedure to ensure the safety of firefighters.”
Buses transported passengers between the Haverhill and North Wilmington stations before 2:15 p.m., according to Farmelant.