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National Park Service Photo / Old Dinah, an old steam engine that replaced the Twenty Mules Teams of the late 1800s, is seen with the historic wooden borax wagon that was burned on April 4, 2024.

Historic Borax Wagon lost to fire in Death Valley National Park

DEATH VALLEY, Calif. – Two separate fires damaged or destroyed a wooden wagon and three housing units at a privately owned resort within Death Valley National Park.

Just after midnight on April 4, park rangers responded to the first fire, which was behind the Borax Museum. The fire destroyed a historic wooden wagon that was used in the 1890s to transport borax out of Death Valley. ‘Old Dinah,’ the steam engine that pulled the wagon, was adjacent to the fire but escaped significant damage. Old Dinah was in use just after the famous Twenty Mule Team era.

Only five wagon sets were constructed and used during the Twenty Mule Team era from 1883 to 1898. Of those, only three are currently relatively intact. This includes a set on display at the U.S. Borax Company headquarters in Boron, California. This set was used in the television series “Death Valley Days.” Within Death Valley National Park, the set of wagons at Harmony Borax Works was not involved in the fire. The Harmony wagons were used on national tours to promote Borax’s sales. The Harmony wagons also have “integrity of fabric and setting”. This means they have had the fewest alterations and most original material of any existing Twenty Mules Team wagons. The wagons behind Old Dinah, including the one that was lost, still had about 50% integrity, with original running boards and some metal hardware.

A second fire was reported at 5:15 a.m., approximately 500 feet away from the earlier fire. This fire was in prefabricated housing units that had been delivered for employee housing but not yet occupied. The National Park Service’s fire engine responded again, joined by the Southern Inyo Fire Protection District, Inyo County Sheriff, and California Highway Patrol. Two units were destroyed, and a third was damaged.

No one was harmed in either fire. The cause of the fires is unknown and under investigation by the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and the State Fire Marshall.