A fire ignited in the brush alongside tracks at Princeton Junction train station Tuesday afternoon caused concern among passengers and disruption to transit on the Northeastern Corridor (NEC). In New Jersey, brush fires peak annually in April. However, amidst moderate drought conditions recorded in recent months, 2023 has seen an uptick in incidents.
According to NJ Transit spokesperson Kyalo Mulumba, on weekdays, 51 trains pass through Princeton Junction daily headed East toward New York City. Princeton Junction is connected to an on-campus University train station by the “Dinky,” a 2.7 mile rail line, and provides members of the Princeton community, including students, access to regional train transit.
Mulumba wrote that the fire resulted in a “slight delay” at the stop for train 3846 on the NEC line to New York Penn Station. Scheduled to pull out of the station at 1:11 p.m., the train instead stopped short of the platform to wait until the fire was extinguished. At least one Princeton student was present at the station at the time.
The train did not depart until around 1:17 p.m. NJ Transit classifies a “delay” as six minutes or more behind schedule. No other trains were late due to the fire.
West Windsor Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Timothy Lynch, told the ‘Prince’ that three West Windsor Township fire units were dispatched shortly before 1 p.m. Upon arrival, the crews located the fire in a “vegetative area next to the northbound train platform” and extinguished it. Firefighters remained on site until the arrival of NJ Transit Police and a fire investigator from the West Windsor Fire Marshal’s Office. Lynch wrote that the cause of the fire was “not immediately known” but confirmed that it “[did] not appear to be suspicious.”
The West Windsor Township does not have a wildfire protection plan, according to Mercer County’s Multi-Jurisdictional Multi-Hazard Mitigation Action Plan. Wildfire risk in the township is, as of the time of publication, classified as moderate.
Axidi Iglesias ’23 witnessed the incident firsthand. She arrived at the station around 12:55 p.m., planning to catch train 3846 to Newark International Airport for a 4 p.m. flight. It was while waiting on the platform that she first spotted the flames.
“The fire was already burning but it got bigger,” she wrote in a message to The Daily Princetonian.
Iglesias reported that the air was “extremely smokey” with “debris flying around.” She told the ‘Prince’ that after a few minutes, emergency vehicle sirens could be heard from the station. Once present, she confirmed, firefighters had the situation under control quickly.
Iglesias stopped to take photos of the flame, which she sent to the Charter Club GroupMe chat once she was able to board the train.
The fire is not the first incident of its kind. Last month, three brush fires in Middlesex County brought NJ Transit and Amtrak rail services to a standstill just before 5 p.m. Departures resumed at 7 p.m., after several cancellations, delays, and altered routes. At the time, ABC7 reported that the source of the fires were sparks emitted from a freight train, which caused nearby vegetation to catch.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Caryn Shinske wrote that there is “no special initiative around train tracks” to mitigate brush fires.
218 wildfires were reported already this month, compared to 91 in the same period last year, according to Shinske.
6,973 acres have burned this month in New Jersey — an increase of over 260 percent from this time last year. Much of this acreage can be attributed to a 3,800-acre wildfire in Ocean County, N.J. The fire started on April 12 and is now 100 percent contained.
Tess Weinreich is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’
Ryan Konarska contributed reporting.
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