Mar 9, 2006 7:41 pm US/Pacific
BART: Passenger Panic Worsened Tunnel Fire
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) ―
A fire that began this morning in a tunnel between the Montgomery and Embarcadero train stations in San Francisco appears to have started when some wood debris underneath Bay Area Rapid Transit tracks was set alight by a spark, according to San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge. Wood Debris Likely Cause Of BART Tunnel Fire
A BART train operator headed east noticed the fire in the track between the stations, near a platform that BART maintenance trucks use, at 9:29 a.m.
The train operator did his best to keep passengers calm, according to BART. But someone in that train panicked and opened a car door, defying an order to stay put so the operator could return to the Montgomery station.
Those actions were a mistake, according to BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier.
BART shut down power and triggered evacuations.
"We got out of the train and went up the escalator," said Margaret Bethlockrem. "We saw flames, and the smoke was filling up fast. I saw the eastbound way, going to the East Bay, the tunnel had a bunch of flames and fire -- it covered the whole width of the tunnel."
"The trains were full of smoke -- no electricity -- with white smoke. It was awful," said Bob Hix.
Other passengers stayed on the train while the area was ventilated, then evacuated using a catwalk that led to a tunnel that wasn't affected by the fire, Talmadge said.
People in the train stations also evacuated as the stations were closed.
While plumes of black smoke rose above Market Street, San Francisco firefighters put out the flames underground.
One woman, a passenger on the evacuated BART train, was treated on the scene for smoke inhalation, Talmadge said.
"Definitely it was an incident that had potential to wreak more havoc, and it didn't, and we're very grateful for that," Talmadge said.
Both the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations were closed for about two hours after the fire was reported, causing significant delays for BART and San Francisco Municipal Railway passengers.
BART established a bus bridge across San Francisco Bay during the incident, and Caltrain offered BART riders on the Peninsula free passage from the Millbrae station to downtown San Francisco.
San Francisco Municipal Railway service also was delayed, both above and below ground. One morning commuter said his travel time to downtown San Francisco from the Outer Sunset district was doubled this morning because of the fire. Official BART Site
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