Residents, businesses file suit against Durango & Silverton over fire

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Residents and businesses are suing the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad over the 416 fire.
Trains: Jim Wrinn
DURANGO, Colo. — A group of residents and business owners have sued the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad alleging that the railroad’s coal-powered steam locomotives caused a 54,000-acre forest fire in June that forced thousands to evacuate and hampered area businesses for weeks on end.

The civil suit, which was filed in the 6th Judicial District Court in Durango last week, accuses the D&SNG, American Heritage Railways, and its owner Allen Harper of not doing enough to prevent locomotive-caused fires and not taking the threat of wildfire seriously during Colorado’s recent drought.

Although witnesses told a local newspaper soon after the fire started on June 1 that they first noticed the fire following the passing of the D&SNG’s daily excursion, the cause of the fire remains under investigation. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to wrap up that investigation in the coming months, the Durango Herald reports.

The plaintiffs allege that the narrow gauge railroad had not done enough fire mitigation along its right-of-way, including cutting back brush, prior to the start of the “416 Fire.” The suit also alleges that although maintenance-of-way employees outfitted with firefighter gear follow every D&SNG train during the summer, they were not given the proper training or equipment to properly douse the fire.

“By filing this lawsuit, Plaintiffs, as guardians of Durango and Silverton history,
seek to safeguard the natural beauty of the San Juan National Forest and protect future
generations from devastating wildfires that can be avoided through the exercise of due
care and diligence,” the plaintiffs state. “The management of the D&SNG… must be
held accountable for its actions and must implement meaningful and lasting changes to
ensure that a disaster like the ‘416 Fire’ never happens again.”

D&SNG officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. “As a matter of corporate policy, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad does not comment on pending litigation,” Harper tells Trains News Wire.

Regular D&SNG operations were suspended the day the fire started. Steam excursions resumed on July 12, but just two weeks later the railroad was shuttered again following a series of mudslides. Since July 28, the railroad has been busing passengers from Durango to Rockwood where they board excursions bound for Silverton. Regular operations are expected to resume Sept. 21, railroad officials tell Trains News Wire.

In the months since the 416 Fire, D&SNG officials have taken a number of steps to prepare for future fire-prone summers, most notably announcing it was purchasing two new diesel locomotives. The railroad has also announced that it is rebuilding K-37 2-8-2 No. 493 and converting it to burn oil.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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