Colorado wildfire shuts down Durango & Silverton

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Fire is burning in timber along U.S. Route 550 on June 1. The fire started near the route of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado.
U.S. Forest Service
DURANGO, Colo. — Colorado’s Durango & Silverton has suspended operations in the face of a large wildfire that started June 1, about 10 miles north of Durango.

The “416 Fire” was first reported on Friday morning, not far from the D&SNG main line and Highway 550. Both the highway and the railroad were promptly shut down and more than 800 homes evacuated. As of Sunday night, the fire had burned more than 2,225 acres.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

In a news release, railroad officials say they will not operate trains between Durango and Silverton until at least June 10 in an effort to keep both passengers and employees safe. Officials also say they will likely resume operations with diesels instead of steam in an effort to reduce the risk of sparking more fires. Due to a dry winter and spring, Durango and the surrounding region are suffering “exceptional drought” conditions.

John Harper, railroad general manager, says the D&SNG is also coordinating with firefighting teams to help fight the blaze in any way possible. The railroad owns a helicopter for putting out fires sparked by its steam trains. Most trains are also followed by speeders with workers armed with water and other fire extinguishers.

“We are closely collaborating with all first responders, and local, county, and state law enforcement and firefighting personnel, to provide any needed assistance in containing this fire,” Harper says. “Additionally, we are proactively directing available resources and staff members to responding agencies as they continue fighting the 416 Fire.”

Passengers with reservations on any canceled excursions will be given a full refund, according to railroad officials.

Jared Bennett of Tulsa, Okla., was aboard Friday morning’s train and tells Trains News Wire that no one noticed anything unusual about the trip until the first water stop up in the Animas River Canyon when some passengers noticed smoke to the south. Afterwards the train continued to Silverton, Colo., for its normal layover. Bennett and the other passengers were later informed that the train would not be returning to Durango because of the fire and that the passengers would be bused back. While waiting for the buses to get to Silverton, the passengers were treated to refreshments at a local hotel. Meanwhile, the crews turned the two trains stuck in Silverton and dropped the fires on both locomotives.

Bennett and his family boarded a bus around 9 p.m. and headed back to Durango, getting an up close look at the wildfire as it burned in the darkness. The passengers arrived back in Durango around 11 p.m. Bennett says it was an especially memorable trip for him, not just because of the fire, but also because he proposed to his girlfriend on the ride to Silverton (she said yes). Bennett also praised the train crews for their professionalism during the entire trip.

“They made us feel appreciated and kept us informed as much as they could,” Bennett says.
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