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Railroad Firemen Knock Down Train Tunnel Blaze

May 02, 1987|LEONARD GREENWOOD | Times Staff Writer

Fighting intense heat and thick smoke all day Friday, more than 100 firefighters from Southern Pacific Railroad extinguished a fire in a tunnel north of San Luis Obispo that has interrupted all coastal train services between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

"The fire was extinguished by 5 p.m.," said Southern Pacific Railroad spokesman Jerry Pera. "There's still a little bit of smoldering in the shoring timbers but our crews can now walk right through the tunnel. We expect to have the debris--the rocks and charred rubble--cleared out of the tunnel by midnight tonight (Friday)."

Pera said more than 100 Southern Pacific firefighters battled the fire, going into the tunnel in teams of six or eight at a time. They fought it in full protective safety equipment, including oxygen masks. "Each crew stays in there about 20 to 30 minutes, then come out to rest and then the next team goes in."

Firefighters pumped more than a million gallons of water into the flames at tunnel No. 7 on Cuesta Grade, 15 miles north of San Luis Obispo. The U.S. Forest Service loaned special high-powered pumping equipment, but water had to be taken to the site in three railroad tank cars. As fast as one tank was emptied into the flames, another full one was brought up to the end of the tunnel, said Pera.

Giant Fans Used

The teams also used two giant fans to blow and suck the heat and smoke out of the tunnel, and to make the fire burn itself out more quickly. One of the 125 horsepower fans was put at each end of the tunnel.

"Now we have the job of going in and restructuring the tunnel," said Pera. "We'll have contractors coming out next week to give us bids for putting in concrete shoring. With luck, the tunnel might be open again for normal use by late next week."

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