By Leigh Armstrong
Skagway resident Keith Nore has put together a video detailing the 1969 White Pass & Yukon Route roundhouse fire which, o
n Oct. 15, 1969, burned the WPYR roundhouse to the ground.
Nore detailed the event in a short documentary called “1969: A White Pass & Yukon Route History.” He premiered the film at the National Park Service on Sept. 25. The 15 minute film can be watched online at https://youtu.be/3xJEbyYQZhU.
The fire started around the car shop and spread quickly due to winds. The fire took the roundhouse and five other buildings down and burned hot enough to melt windows and distort steel rails.
The Skagway volunteer fire department got the call that the roundhouse, located at the current WP&YR workshop location, had caught fire in the afternoon. The fire department only had four vehicles with water pumps for response at the time.
While the department was not equipped for fighting the size of fire that erupted at the roundhouse, other men from town came quickly to help fend off the flames from spreading any farther north.
An additional problem was the lack of water pressure from the trucks. Efforts were made to bring water from town and firefighters attempted to pump the river.
During the fire, WP&YR employees tried to salvage as much equipment as possible before the fire consumed everything. Due to storage of gasoline and fuel, the fire spread and burned quickly.
“Drums of fuel could be heard exploding (in the roundhouse),” an article from Oct. 16, 1969, issue of Juneau’s Alaska Empire said.
Within 90 minutes, the roundhouse had been destroyed by the fire. In addition, the machine shop, the heating plant, lunchroom, blacksmith’s shop and the other hostler’s shop burned to the ground. Two locomotives were completely destroyed in the fire along with multiple train cars.
WP&YR recovered from the fire quickly, placing a steel building over the drop pits so business could keep running the following day.