By Justin Franz
The insurance company for a Colorado ski resort has sued the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for damages resulting from a wildfire that investigators said was caused by a coal-fired steam train. The insurance company representing Purgatory Resort filed the lawsuit on May 29, just two days shy of the second anniversary of the 416 Fire and just before the statute of limitations deadline on the claim.
On June 1, 2018, a wildfire started along the D&SNG near Hermosa, just north of Durango. The fire burned more than 50,000 acres in two months and forced the evacuation of thousands of people. The railroad was closed for over a month. An investigation by the U.S. Forest Service found the fire was most likely caused by a cinder from a passing steam locomotive. According to a federal lawsuit that was filed against the railroad in 2019, the train had caused numerous spot fires in the days before the 416 Fire started. The railroad employs a helicopter and fire patrol to follow trains to put out spot fires when conditions are particularly dry.
The insurance company’s lawsuit, which was first reported by the Durango Herald this week, is seeking to recoup losses from depressed visitation and revenue because of the fire. The claim is one of three lawsuits against the railroad that are working their way through the justice system. The largest was on behalf of the federal government that seeks to recoup $25 million in firefighting costs. Late last year, the railroad filed a motion to dismiss arguing that there is no law that allows the government to recover firefighting costs. On Monday, a federal judge dismissed that motion, setting the stage for what is sure to be a lengthy trial. The railroad has denied any wrongdoing. Despite that stance, the railroad has taken steps to safeguard its operations during times of high fire danger. Earlier this year, it completed the restoration of oil-burning 2-8-2 493. The railroad has also purchased a number of diesel locomotives in recent months.