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U.S. Blows the Whistle on the Railroad for Causing Colorado’s 416 Fire

By Heidi Culbertson

July 3, 2019   Colorado Blog

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit on July 2, 2019, alleging Durango’s historic railroad started the 416 Fire that burned approximately 54,000 acres of land last year in the San Juan National Forest and surrounding areas. The U.S. Forest service investigated the cause of the fire and determined that the 416 Fire, the 6th largest blaze ever recorded in Colorado, was ignited by burning particles emitted from an exhaust stack on one of the train’s coal-burning steam engines.  The federal investigators determined that the locomotive cast off burning cinders that started a brush fire next to the railroad track on National Forest Land. San Juan National Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick said that the fire was investigated with “great care and thoroughness.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and the train’s parent company American Heritage Railways, Inc. The complaint also cites the train’s operations along its Durango-to-Silverton railroad track has previously caused wildfires requiring the deployment of federal fire-fighting resources The complaint claims the United States is owed about $25 million in costs and damages. U.S. Attorney, Jason Dunn, said, “Protecting our public lands is one of the most important things we do in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 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.”

Two Colorado Trial Firms Seek Justice for the Victims of the Durango “416 Fire”

Seeking compensation for their own losses, Durango-area residents and businesses have filed their own lawsuit. The suit has been filed against the Durango & Silverton, its operator, American Heritage, and Allen C. Harper to hold train management responsible for their decision to run the train on the morning of June 1, 2018. They operated the train in spite of their knowledge there was an extremely high risk of burning embers from the coal-fired steam locomotive starting a fire in the tinder-dry conditions The nationally recognized Colorado-based law firm of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, P.C. is working with Durango-based firm of Duthie Savastano Brungard, PLLC to assist the residents and businesses of Durango and Silverton who were harmed by the Durango “416 Fire”  to obtain the justice they deserve seeking compensation for their losses and damages caused by the fire.

Attorney Tom Henderson said,

Train management needs to step forward and take responsibility for their decision to run their fire-prone train the morning of June 1, during tinder-dry conditions, when the fire danger had just been elevated to Stage 2, which means that even public smoking is prohibited.  Train management said they would take responsibility if the investigation determined the train started the fire, and the federal investigation has now determined just that.  It’s now time for train management to do the right thing and take responsibility for what their decision did to the innocent citizens of Durango and Silverton and nearby areas.”

Bobby Duthie, a local attorney in Durango and lead co-counsel in the local resident’s lawsuit added, “The train has been a big part of our lives. None of the plaintiffs and I’m sure the Forest Service feels the same way, are interested in getting rid of the train,” Duthie said. “We are trying to compensate people for the losses they actually suffered.”

Thomas W. Henderson, a Shareholder at Burg Simpson, and Bobby Duthie of Duthie Savastano Brungard have joined forces to protect and assist those harmed by the fires.  These two firms have decades of experience litigating complex cases and are dedicated to holding those responsible for the fire accountable.  The team they have assembled to pursue recompense for their clients have significant experience handling cases for victims of forest fires and have received substantial verdicts in these types of cases. The attorneys at Burg Simpson and Duthie Savastano Brungard look forward to representing and providing a voice for those individuals and businesses affected by this tragedy.

Henderson and Duthie are going to work together to ask that the train’s owners be stand-up people, take responsibility for the harm they caused, and fairly compensate the victims. It is a cost of doing business in a civil, responsible society. That is what good business people do in Colorado.

Outside Media Links:

CPR News article, dated Tuesday, July 2nd

Denver Post article, dated Sunday, July 7

KOA News Radio interview, dated Tuesday, July 9th

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