Healy Roundhouse Fire

by James Sava
Retired Alaska Railroad Trainmaster


James SavaThe Healy roundhouse fire started early on that Saturday morning [May 10, 1952], before 8 a.m. because I was in Fairbanks at the train depot.  I was the fireman on # 5, the southbound passenger train, and we were on duty at 8 a.m.  The Road Foreman of Engines and the Fairbanks roundhouse foreman climbed up on the engine and asked me if I had heard about the fire at Healy.  Their concern for coming to me was because the fellow who got burned  was my uncle. Not having heard about it yet, I asked what happened and they told me only that my uncle got burned and was being air-lifted to Fairbanks. The running time for the passenger train from Fairbanks to Healy then was 3 hrs. 05 min, getting there at 11:35 a.m.  The roundhouse was adjacent to the main line, south of all the buildings in Healy, and some of the fire debris was fouling the track, so we had to pull into one of the yard tracks upon arrival at Healy.  The fire was pretty much out by then but smoldering nevertheless.  Some of my friends, and other railroaders, wasted no time telling me that my uncle, who was the on-duty roundhouse foreman that morning, got his hands burned pretty badly trying to get those two locomotives started that are shown in some of those shots.  The rail ambulance was also in there and he tried unsuccessfully to save it.  The exact cause of the fire was never determined, to my reccollection, but a lot of talk always centered on "wiring ".  One report was that a rat knawed through the old wiring in a back wall and caused it.  Just pure speculation, I think, because the fire consumed  practically everything.  I don't think there was much fire equipment that didn't get destroyed in the fire.  Can't remember ever hearing of anyone getting blamed or disciplined for it.  I visited my uncle in St. Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks after my next northbound trip on the passenger train and saw that he had also had his face slightly burned and some hair singed way back.  He eventually recovered but never went back to work for the Alaska Railroad.  His hands were too damaged , mostly on the backsides due to the fact that his gloves had caught fire and burned so quickly -- they were greasy , etc.  He was a machinist by trade.  The fire debris was cleared and a new  roundhouse was built -- out of concrete blocks.  It stands to this day but is in bad shape and isn't used as a roundhouse.

See James Sava's photos of the Healy Roundhouse fire


© 2002 James Sava