Fire partially collapses the railroad tunnel south of Mount Ashland where a train holdup occurred in 1923


Railroad officials hope today to quell a stubborn and dangerous fire burning inside a partially collapsed Siskiyou Mountain train tunnel where the West's last great train robbery occurred 80 years ago.

The fire, likely started by transients or trespassers, burned enough old wooden joists to cause rock and debris to pile up to 8 feet in spots inside Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad's Tunnel 13 near Interstate 5's Siskiyou Summit, authorities said.

Discovered by a passerby around 7 a.m. Monday, the fire was burning in the creosote-soaked timbers about 65 feet from the tunnel's north end, the site of the botched D'Autremont brothers' train robbery of 1923.

Firefighters over two hours launched three attacks using long hoses, but they were turned back as rocks and dirt showered from the tunnel's exposed ceiling, said Capt. Richard Scowden from Jackson County Fire District No. 5.
— Beams started collapsing and there was six to eight feet of debris on the track, so we came to the conclusion there wasn't much we could do, Scowden said.

Firefighters did not want to risk entering from the south end over fear of collapse, Scowden said. Crews would have to walk virtually the entire length of the 3,000-foot-long tunnel to reach the blaze, he said.

A team of firefighters from the Seattle firm of Shannon-Wilson, which has experience dealing with tunnel fires, was scheduled to be at the tunnel today, said Mark Wohlers, the railroad's administrative affairs manager in Roseburg.

The railroad hopes to have the fire under control today, Wohlers said.

No cause was pinpointed Monday.

We suspect it's probably transients or some sort of trespass thing, said Wohlers, who called tunnel fires very rare. There's been no trains through there since Saturday, so it wasn't from us.

Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad is a shortline railroad operating on about 450 miles of track in Southern Oregon and Northern California. The railway will reroute its traffic, usually two trains a day, through its Weed, Calif., interchange with Union Pacific, Wohlers said.

The tunnel has utility cables routed through it, including a Qwest line. It was unknown Monday night whether the tunnel fire will affect telephone or other services.

About 15 firefighters from four districts converged on the tunnel, and crews were stationed at each end to monitor it, Scowden said.

On Oct. 11, 1923, 23-year-old twins Ray and Roy D'Autremont and their teenage brother Hugh robbed Southern Pacific's Gold Special train in hopes of collecting the &

36;500,000 in gold rumored to be on board.

They dynamited the train in the area where Monday's fire was burning. The blast killed the mail clerk and the D'Autremonts shot and killed the brakeman, engineer and fireman before fleeing empty-handed.

The brothers escaped a massive manhunt until Hugh D'Autremont was arrested overseas while in the military in 1927. Days later, the twins were arrested in Ohio.