A massive brush fire along the railroad tracks in West Haven caused two transformers to explode late Thursday afternoon and prompted Metro-North, Amtrak and Shore Line East to briefly halt service in the area, according to New Haven Fire Chief Allyn Wright and a spokesperson for Metro-North.
Wright said flames broke out in a construction area near Kimberly Avenue and Interstate 95. Wind carried the fire into a patch of nearby cattails, where flames continued to grow and spread.
West Haven crews tried to put the fire out but were overwhelmed, so they called in mutual aid from New Haven, according to Wright. New Haven brought in an engine and a fire boat to battle blaze from both land and water and keep it from spreading to the other side of the tracks.
"The brush fire was starting to go across the tracks, so they called us in to keep that from happening," Wright said. "And it's rush hour. Trains are going inbound and outbound."
Footage from the scene shows giant flames and thick black smoke. State police said the flames went up directly across from Interstate 95 and traffic was delayed while drivers slowed down to catch a glimpse. According to First Alert Meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan, the smoke showed up on radar.
Metro-North briefly cut power to the tracks, and trains bound for New Haven and West Haven were halted in Milford, according to a spokesperson for the railroad.
One train did travel past the fire before the railroads suspended service. Wright described the situation as "very dangerous."
"It was hot. I could feel it through the train," said Amtrak passenger Sara McLaughlin. "It was hot and it was big, and it was the closest I have ever been to a fire that big."
A spokesperson for Metro-North estimates that two Shore Line East trains and six Metro-North trains were affected before service resumed around 6 p.m. An alert from the railroad warned commuters to expect residual delays.
An Amtrak representative said two trains – Northeast Regional 176 and Acela Express 2166 – traveled through the area with delays, while two others – Northeast Regional 175 and Acela Express 2171 – were stopped in New Haven.