Historic trolley escapes Washington wildfire

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Streetcar No. 1976 waits at the edge of a wildfire near Yakima, Wash.
Yakima Valley photo
YAKIMA, Wash. — What started as a normal Saturday at Washington’s Yakima Valley Electric Museum ended with a harrowing escape from a wildfire.

On July 16, a small grass fire erupted into a 500-acre inferno near the Yakima River. According to Yakima Valley Trolleys President Ken Johnsen, firefighters responded to the blaze during the second trolley run of the day from Yakima to Selah, Wash. Johnsen was the motorman on that excursion and said as the trolley passed along the Yakima River he spotted a small fire on an island but thought nothing of it because firefighters appeared to be enroute.

But during the layover at Selah, the fire quickly grew out of control and Johnsen was informed by local firefighters that the trolley would not be able to return to the car barn at Yakima because the tracks were on fire. Johnsen called the Yakima Police Department and Yakima Transit provided a bus to bring the passengers back to the carbarn. Johnsen stayed with the trolley, a single-truck streetcar built in 1928 for service in Portugal, while he and other volunteers organized a night watch to keep an eye on the car while it was in Selah.

Late Sunday evening, fire officials told the museum that they would be able to take car No. 1976 through the burned area and back to the car barn in Yakima. Fearing that some of the trolley poles could fall and prevent the car from getting back to Yakima the volunteers took a chance and went through the burn. While one person motored the trolley, another walked ahead of it with a fire extinguisher to put out any smoldering ties.

“Almost like in a movie, the trolley rolled through a firescape that was still active,” Johnsen tells Trains News Wire. “Fortunately nothing caught fire on the trolley, and no poles fell to block its escape from Selah.”

Car No. 1976 was returned to the carbarn late Sunday evening, Johnsen says, thanks mostly to the hard work of a volunteers that he calls “heroes,” including Russ Wentworth, Larry Fournier, Ed Neel, and Dan Tamsky. Johnsen says volunteers have yet to assess the damage but that they hope to inspect the line later this week.

The Yakima Herald reports that the fire has been contained and that it’s unclear how it started.

More information is available online.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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