|Helitanker over the 416 Fire (Inciweb).|
“The United States alleges that the fire was ignited by burning particles emitted from an exhaust stack on a coal-burning steam engine locomotive owned and operated by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.The lawsuit seeks $25 million to repay firefighting costs.
About 9:45 a.m. June 1, 2018, a resident in the Meadowridge subdivision saw a “wisp of smoke” near a bend in the tracks as the D&SNG passed by, igniting intense speculation that the train was the cause of the 416 Fire.The D&S steam engines do have screens on their funnels, 19th-century technology that stops at least some hot cinders. But the old=time trains did start fires. I remember once looking at Colorado 67 in Teller County from across a valley— it follows an old railroad grade in places — and there are all these patches of aspen above (but not below) the highway. They sure look like places where small fires started along the line and then burned out on their own.
The neighborhood of about eight homes a few hundred feet from the tracks had grown used to seeing the D&SNG start fires, and residents even had their own water truck to help put out small fires ignited by small cinders emitted from the steam locomotives’ smokestacks.
But their efforts were in vain that day. Even when the railroad’s own water tanker arrived about five minutes later, the fire had advanced too far.
The thing is, not only is the train a big tourist attraction, but at least some residents really like it. One of the homeowners first on the scene to fight the fire also said,
[Cres Fleming] also loves the train. He called himself a “foamer” and “railroad nut,” who has done a lot of volunteer work for the train and played Santa Claus for a number of years on the Polar Express. He and Chione both said they live where they do because of the train.That, and if you are in downtown Durango during a temperature inversion when the train is leaving the station, you can experience 19th-century street-level atmosphere conditions, otherwise known as "Why the Victorians wore black."