Train bridge fire in Porcupine Plain, Sask., an accident, remorseful man says

A retired man living on property near an old train bridge in rural Saskatchewan is expressing deep remorse after a grass fire he started grew out of control and ignited the structure Friday.

Grass fire ignited timbers of structure built in 1929

The creosote-soaked timbers of a train bridge near Porcupine Plain, Sask., led to a spectacular fire Friday. (Ross Telford/Facebook)

A retired man living on property near an old train bridge in rural Saskatchewan is expressing deep remorse after a grass fire he started grew out of control and ignited the structure Friday.

"It was an accident," Brian Foster said in an interview with CBC News Sunday.

He said he was burning grass on the walking paths and cross-country ski trails on his property, which is about 200 metres from the defunct wooden train bridge near the town of Porcupine Plain, Sask., about 280 kilometres east of Saskatoon. He said he tries to maintain the trails for the benefit of the community.

Foster first confessed his role in the bridge fire via the comment section on the CBC News story that originally reported the blaze.

I'm afraid it's not a very happy sight right now.- Brian Foster

"I was burning some of the long grass on a steep incline … and as soon as it touched those creosote-covered posts, the flames just shot right up to the top," he recalled.

"I tried to put it out with snow but that didn't work," Foster said.

He said he was thankful that passersby on Highway 23 noticed the fire and called the local fire department. Crews were dispatched and also made an attempt at dousing the flames.

"They didn't have much more luck," Foster said.

The train bridge in Porcupine Plain was built in 1929. (Bryce Christianson/Facebook)

Foster said that, just as farmers use burning techniques on stubble in their fields, his goal was to manage vegetation on his property.

"It's actually a fairly good time of the year to burn because we have a lot of snow on the ground," Foster said. "It helps to control the fire."

Restless nights after the fire

Foster said he has been rattled by what happened.

"I haven't had much sleep the last couple of days," he said. "The scene has replayed as I'm trying to sleep. It's been a tough ride emotionally."

When the CBC News story about the spectacular fire attracted comments online, Foster said he quickly added his own to the forum.

"I didn't want people blaming other people," Foster said, explaining why he chose to identify himself as the person who started the grass fire. He said he didn't want people jumping to conclusions, such as that the fire was intentionally caused.

Foster's online comment

"I assure you that my family and I will be among those who are the most saddened by our loss," Foster said in the comment section below the story.

"I apologize for my carelessness to all who will miss our railway bridge. I also thank the fire department and the RCMP for taking time from their Good Friday holiday to deal with a fire that should never have happened. Again, I offer my most sincere apologies."

Foster's admission elicited notes of understanding from others who commented.

"I was very touched by the empathetic and kind comments from people all across Canada," Foster said. "It did make me feel less badly about the whole situation."

Foster, who retired five years ago after a career in education, said he has contacted both the RCMP and CN police. He said he has not heard about possible repercussions.

"I have no idea what to expect," he said. "But I did it … I've taken responsibility."

Bridge a symbol of home

Like others who have commented, Foster lamented the loss of a local landmark.

"That bridge was very important to our community," he said, noting how people catching sight of the bridge after a long highway journey to town would react.

"It meant that they were close to home," he said. "Everyone was always happy to see the bridge. I'm afraid it's not a very happy sight right now."

RCMP said Saturday their investigation into the fire was continuing and noted that it was associated with a grass fire that got out of control.

An image from 1929 captioned 'First train over the bridge' near Porcupine Plain, Sask. (Stacy Disiewich/Facebook)

With files from CBC's Micki Cowan


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