‘Maybe it was bad luck,’ tourist train owner says of massive fire near Durango that led to $25 million lawsuit
Federal prosecutors chase Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad chief for damages related to the 53,000-acre 416 Fire
The Colorado Sun
The federal government wants the owner of a tourist train in Durango to pay $25 million for causing a wildfire that scorched 53,000 acres of Forest Service land last summer.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office says burning cinders from the exhaust stack of a coal-fired steam train operated by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and its owner, American Heritage Railways, sparked a small brushfire next to the tracks on June 1 last year. The suit says fire investigators found “a collection of numerous, extinguished embers, cinders and ash particles” next to the tracks and at the specific area where the fire originated about 10 miles north of Durango.
“Multiple eyewitness statements verify that the fire ignited adjacent to the track immediately after one of defendants’ coal-fired steam locomotives passed the origin point,” reads the lawsuit.
The 416 Fire burned for six months and firefighters prevented it from destroying any structures, with the state and federal government spending close to $40 million to battle the fire.
“Protecting our public lands is one of the most important things we do in the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn in a statement Tuesday announcing the lawsuit. “This fire caused significant damage, cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and put lives at risk. We owe it to taxpayers to bring this action on their behalf.”
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