The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. started the 416 Fire with one of its coal-fired engines, the U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday. U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Forest Service in the District of Colorado.
American Heritage Railways, Inc., the owner and operator of the D&SNG, was also named as a defendant. The lawsuit identifies $25 million in costs for suppression and rehabilitation, the latter of which has its full costs yet to be determined, according to a release issued by the Department of Justice.
The 416 Fire started the morning of June 1, 2018, next to a railroad track operated by the D&SNG. Federal fire investigators determined the ignition started from particles released by a coal-fired steam engine. Eyewitnesses also stated the fire began after one of the railroad’s engines passed by.
The 416 Fire burned approximately 54,000 acres and took two months to contain. It was not declared extinguished until November 29, nearly six months later.
The D&SNG is no stranger to starting fires along its tracks between Durango and Silverton. The federal government’s lawsuit lists several of them, including the 2012 Goblin Fire that burned 1,000 acres. However, the D&SNG also has a history of fighting the Forest Service’s bills and cutting its costs in half, according to an investigative report by the Durango Herald.
D&SNG’s legal assistant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another lawsuit against the D&SNG was filed in September by area residents and business owners seeking compensation for damages related to the fire. Some of the damages include those from flooding exacerbated by the burn scar.