Published on Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Historic rail operator sued over Colorado wildfires

One of the largest wildfires in Colorado's history has been blamed on a scenic railroad operator.

U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn filed a lawsuit against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and operator American Heritage Railways.

Federal investigators allege hot embers and other material spewed onto trackside brush just before the fire took hold last summer.

It led to a fire which covered 85 square miles of land near Durango, prompting evacuations of hundreds of people.

It took several months before the fire was fully extinguished.

Federal investigators estimated the damage at about $25 million.

The 41-mile scenic steam train ride is one of the region's top tourist draws and the rail line has been in operation for more than a century.

Local residents had already filed a separate civil lawsuit against the railroad, saying it should have known not to operate during a time of intense drought.

"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," Dunn said.

The fire is thought to be the sixth largest in the state's history based on the size of area burned.


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