The 2018 summer season has got off to a rocky start for the premier heritage railroad in Colorado. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad based in Durango, Colorado has halted all passenger operations due to the 416 Fire, a wildfire of still-undetermined origin that started at 10:02 AM Friday, exactly one week ago. Roughly 1,500 people have evacuated for the 5,000 acre fire near Hermosa, Colorado, with approximately 600 firefighters combating the flames.
At present, the railroad has temporarily halted all operations with exception of free museum and railyard tours in Durango until at least June 17th. They have furloughed 150 employees as a result, leaving as many as 3 trains worth of passengers without a trip to take to Silverton.
If Durango is hard hit by the suspension of service, Silverton is likely desperate. The noontime crush of tourists is something most restaurants and retailers in the small San Juan county seat absolutely depend on to make or break their season. All but 62 of San Juan County's 699 residents live in Silverton, meaning Colorado's smallest county by population is not a likely candidate for growth this year, thanks to the fire.
When operations do resume, it's more than likely that the narrow gauge steam mikados will not immediately return to service. The sentiment is that with one wildfire already active and consuming resources, stray cinders from the coal-fired locomotives run the risk of igniting a second wildfire, even with the precautions of fire-suppression equipped speeders and a stand-by helicopter. Instead, and a result of the impact of the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire, the D&SNG is planning to use diesel engines to haul what trains it can. It's not ideal, and the D&SNG knows that the stars are its legacy Denver & Rio Grande Western K-28 and K-36 class engines burning coal as they always have. It just may not be for June 2018. ⚒