Railroad activity by either Montana Rail Link or BNSF caused the fast-moving and destructive River Road East fire around Paradise, Montana, plaintiffs claim in a lawsuit filed last month in federal court.
Thirty-one people, including some couples, who lost homes or other property in the blaze are suing the two railways for allegedly igniting the fire on Aug. 18. Within hours of sparking, the fire grew to thousands of acres, propelled by strong winds in hot, dry weather. The fire jumped from the south side of Paradise and the Clark Fork River to the north side. It raced up the McLaughlin Creek drainage, where much of the property losses occurred, on its way to burning 12,000 acres in less than 12 hours. Officials at the time reported that as many as 50 structures, including 16 primary residences, burned in the fire.
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In the days after the incident, residents reported that the fire started near where River Road East crosses a Montana Rail Link main line and intersects with U.S. Highway 200. Dispatch records also placed the ignition point at that location. That’s on the south bank of the river, near the