DURANGO, Colo. — Colorado’s top federal prosecutor announced Tuesday that his office has filed a lawsuit against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and its owner, alleging the railroad sparked the massive 416 Fire near Durango last summer, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn filed the lawsuit, which seeks to recover damages suffered during the blaze, on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. 

The 416 Fire started June 1, 2018 during extreme drought conditions near tracks for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. A resident later reported seeing smoke after one of its coal-fired trains passed by. 

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The lawsuit alleges that the fire was "ignited by burning particles emitted from an exhaust stack on a coal-burning steam engine locomotive owned and operated by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and its owner and operator, American Heritage Railways, Inc,” the release says.

The United States said it incurred about $25 million in suppression costs and other damages, including rehabilitation costs from the fire. 

The lawsuit goes on to argue that the company should be held liable under federal and Colorado law for all the damages incurred by the United States as a result of the fire, including the costs of fire suppression and the costs to rehabilitate the public lands damaged by the fire.

Area residents and businesses have filed their own lawsuit against the company, arguing that it knew or should have known about drought conditions.

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“Protecting our public lands is one of the most important things we do in the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  “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.”

The 416 Fire burned for about six months across more than 54,000 acres of the San Juan National Forest near Durango. Firefighters did not declare it extinguished until November 29, 2018. 

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