Huge Blaze Burns Under Puyallup River Bridge In Tacoma

December 11, 2002
By KOMO Staff & News Services

TACOMA, WA - Flames from two burning rail cars reached high into the air Wednesday afternoon, prompting evacuation of nearby businesses and halting traffic in an industrial area of Tacoma. The fire was visible from Interstate 5, about a half mile away. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The cars contained denatured alcohol, a fuel additive that made for a spectacular fire, but did not pose any significant health threat from fumes, said Bill Dunbar, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman. Businesses within a six-block area were evacuated as a precaution, said Fire Deputy Chief Gary Schiesz. The fire, which started about 3:30 p.m., prompted authorities to halt traffic on a section of Washington 509 that passes over the fire area in the Tacoma Tideflats. The main rail line through the area was briefly shut down as well. Other Trains Affected The fire caused some disruption to Sound Transit commuter trains, which could only get as far south as the Puyallup Station. Those heading to the Tacoma Dome station will be bused there. The delays might extend into Thursday morning. Riders should call 1-888-889-6368 for information. Amtrak is also affected. Southbound passengers from Seattle Wednesday night will have to be bused to Tacoma, Portland, or Eugene. The fire burned between Portland Avenue and the Port of Tacoma. A switch crew was moving 20 cars of local freight in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe switching yard at 3:30 p.m. when crew members noticed flames coming from a tank car about eight cars back, said Gus Melonas of BNSF. The burning cars were then isolated from the rest of the 20-car string that included nine tank cars, Melonas said. He said he would not speculate on the cause of the fire. Both the state Department of Ecology and the federal EPA sent crews to the scene. Schiesz said transportation authorities would perform a structural inspection on the 509 overpass before allowing any cars back on it.