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One Dead, 19 Hurt in Amtrak Train Fire

February 21, 1988|From Times Wire Services

HASTINGS, Neb. — Flames engulfed the crew car on Amtrak's westbound California Zephyr early Saturday, killing an Amtrak cook and injuring 19 other people, officials said.

Cesar Arguelles, 70, of Chicago, died of smoke inhalation.

Amtrak spokesman John Jacobsen said the fire aboard the 14-car westbound train, which was carrying 294 passengers and a crew of 18, was reported as the train was pulling into Hastings for a scheduled stop. Hastings Fire Chief Jim Mitera said the blaze was under control about 90 minutes later.

An electrical short in the wiring of the crew car heating unit caused the fire, Deputy State Fire Marshal Chuck Hoffman said at a news conference. He said the heater was in a storage area under the crew sleeping quarters and that the short ignited the car's wood floor.

Smoke seeped into an adjacent passenger car, officials said.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, and the crew car and an adjoining passenger sleeper car were separated from the train.

The train was en route from Chicago to Salt Lake City, where passengers were to disembark and board trains for Oakland, Los Angeles or Seattle. It later continued on its route, Jacobsen said.

Bob Weber, a Mary Lanning Hospital spokesman, said 18 people were taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. Of 12 admitted, five were in intensive care. Six were treated and released, including two Hastings police officers and an ambulance attendant.

Jacobsen said seven crew members had been in the burning car. Three escaped and three others were among the injured. He said one elderly woman in the passenger car adjoining the crew car was taken to the hospital.

No smoke detectors are on the train because "no one has invented one that works reliably," Jacobsen said. Because smoke detectors are so sensitive, the constant vibrations on trains would set them off, he said.

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