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Red Line Subway Fire Hurts 19

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jun 21, 2010 2:00PM

The investigation continues this morning into a subway fire late yesterday afternoon that sent 19 people to the hospital. The fire occurred just southeast of the Clark and Division Red Line stop just before 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon. As a result, 19 people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and other respiratory complications. Over 100 firefighters responded and by 6:18, the fire was under control. Red Line and some bus service were temporarily rerouted but full service was restored by 8 p.m. While the cause is still under investigation, the early speculation is that railroad ties caught fire, something that's not entirely unusual in the summer even though yesterday's temperatures were the coolest in several days. From the Tribune:

Fire officials said railroad ties caught fire shortly after 5 p.m. on the northbound track between the Red Line stops at Chicago Avenue and Clark/Division. Black smoke could be seen billowing from several subway grates and vents in the area, including near Gibson's Bar and Steakhouse on Rush Street. Red Line trains and several bus routes were redirected while firefighters fought the small underground blaze.

Fire department spokesman Larry Langford said, "It's more common on the elevated trains. It's rare on the subway. But it does happen occasionally." Fox Chicago reported a Fire Dept. source as telling them the cause was "grease and a chemical used to preserve railroad ties." The CTA is also looking into alleged confusion as passengers tried to leave the trains at the Clark and Division stop. Christopher Babashka told CBS 2, "People were yelling … We were banging on the driver's door. I'm down there in the CTA with my family - underground, in the dark, minimal to no announcements … It was a total catastrophic failure on behalf of the CTA." Some passengers said they had to leave their train via the emergency exits but the CTA is still working to confirm that. Again, from the Tribune:

"Everyone was just wondering what was going on and trying to breathe," said Sang Shin, 22, whose train came to a stop for several minutes between Chicago Avenue and Clark/Division. The only explanation they were given as smoke filled the cabin was that another train was in front of them, he said.

CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said, "I think in this situation we have to first interview everybody involved. But in terms of reporting the problem and getting trains to the station, that occurred as it should."