Starting on June 1, 2018, the 416 Fire approximately 10 miles from Durango quickly grew to a whooping 54,129 acres, putting property and structures in the area at risk while contributing to a decrease in local tourism. Though there hasn’t been an official announcement regarding what started the blaze, some locals have been blaming the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNNRR) from early on, assuming that a spark or burning material from the train lit trackside brush on fire in a remote stretch of land at some point along the 50-mile route.
According to the Denver Post, Durango chemist Cresswell Fleming claims that the fire started approximately 20 feet from the track following the train passing by. He noted that no campers were present in the area at the time. This is supported by evidence that the earliest stage of the burn took place along the route between Hermosa and Silverton.
We might not be 100% sure what started the blaze at the moment, but there’s a chance we will soon thanks to a lawsuit that has been filed by local residents and businesses against the D&SNRR officially claiming that the railroad responsible for the wildfire. This will likely lead to a deeper investigation into the cause, either clearing D&SNRR or showing that the railroad was indeed at fault.
A key claim of the lawsuit is that though owners knew a fire-risk existed given drought conditions, they continued to operate and failed to take additional precautions. While running a train that produces sparks during a drought may be risky, the train company did take some measures to prevent fires, including following the train with fire-fighting equipment and covering spots near the track with fire retardant. This wasn’t enough according to the lawsuit, which claims that excess brush and dry material near the track caused the fire to spread past a threshold of control.
Aside from the destruction of natural beauty, the plaintiffs in this case also claim that the fire impacted the local economy, causing a 5.6 percent dip in sales tax and a 13.2 percent dip in lodger’s tax, according to the Durango Herald. The same article also states that plaintiffs homes and business were damaged in mudslides resulting from the blaze.
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