Homeowners and businesses near Durango are suing the owners and operators of the local train service, claiming the train sparked the devastating 416 Fire.
The law firm on the case claims the wildfire that burned more than 54,000 acres “didn’t need to happen,” claiming the train shouldn’t have been running the day the fire sparked.
“There’s really no doubt in our minds that the train started fire and needs to be held accountable,” said Tom Henderson, an attorney with the Colorado-based Burg Simpson Law Firm, which is representing the fire victims.
The 416 Fire sparked on June 1, 2018, near Durango, Colorado. Over June and July, the fire burned tens of thousands of forest land, leaving mudslide-prone areas near homes and shutting down tourism in the nearby area.
“Good folks who through no fault of their own suffered tremendous damage and harm as a result of this fire,” said Henderson.
The lawsuit, announced by the law firm Monday evening, was recently filed in Colorado court. It alleges the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad “carelessly disregarded” the risk of fire by running its coal-fired steam train on the windy day the 416 Fire started.
Coal-fired steam trains are known to throw off sparks along the track, Henderson says.
“You had an area that was beset by the highest category of drought,” said Henderson.
While the official cause of the fire remains under investigation by the US Forest Service, the lawsuit alleges that the train sparked the 416 Fire as it went up a hill with a full load of passengers.
The lawsuit also accuses the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad of hiring an inexperienced fire crew to follow the train, having allegedly replaced a more experienced crew.
“So what we were dealing with is largely a rookie crew who we understand probably didn’t have adequate training,” said Henderson.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Monday night but was only able to leave a voicemail.
The Durango Herald reports that the train’s CEO offered no comment on the lawsuit Monday because he hasn’t been served.
The law firm representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit will be hosting town halls about their legal filing next week in Durango. As of Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, the town halls are tentatively scheduled for September 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m at the Durango Arts Center.