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October 29, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Homeless campers’ fire caused Monday’s light-rail shutdown

A garbage fire set by homeless campers on Beacon Hill was the source of smoke that got into a light-rail tunnel Monday evening.

The smoke halted rail service shortly after 6 p.m., and full service wasn’t restored until 8 p.m.

The incident began when Link rail operators reported what smelled like electrical smoke at the Beacon Hill, Mount Baker and downtown stations. The Seattle Fire Department launched its highest response level — some 64 firefighters — a response  reserved for disasters such as a tunnel, pier or marine fire, said fire spokesman Kyle Moore.

The Beacon Hill Tunnel was eventually closed, forcing transit riders to detour using Metro buses.

Firefighters smelled burnt plastic, though no transit-tunnel smoke alarms tripped, Moore said.  They inspected station elevators, and rode the trains, while several returned to their posts. The fire department released the trackway at 7:32, and Sound Transit took several minutes to restart the trains, said Moore.

Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said full service returned by 8 p.m.  It takes about 20 minutes to check elevators, alarms and the vast ventilation system, he said. “We got back up as quick as we could, given the complexities of Beacon Hill.”

Transit police on Tuesday morning walked the hillside and found three people in a homeless camp, and refuse from a garbage fire, on restricted transit property, said Bruce Gray, Sound Transit spokesman. Smoke had been sucked into the tunnel through the west portal.

“The firefighters, and Sound Transit too, we always have to be safety-minded first,” Gray said. A debriefing will be held with firefighters. “When things happen like this, we’ll be talking about what we can do to not shut down the entire line for an hour,” Gray said.

That incident overlapped with another problem, in which two stalled King County Metro Transit buses blocked Link trains from using the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel at 6:15 p.m., for 25 minutes, Gray said.

Link trains carry about 32,400 people per weekday and ridership is growing.

Comments | More in The Blotter, Traffic & Transit | Topics: fire, homeless camp, light rail


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