A trial date has been set in the lawsuit filed by residents and business owners against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which they accuse of starting the 416 Fire.
The lawsuit, filed in September 2018, contends that the 416 Fire, which sparked June 1, 2018, about 10 miles north of Durango, was started by a cinder emitted from the train’s coal-fired steam engine while traveling north on the 50-mile route from Durango to Silverton.
To date, the U.S. Forest Service has not named an official cause of the fire, calling the investigation “open and active.” Witness accounts, however, have fueled speculation the D&SNG was at fault.
Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Suzanne Carlson set a seven-week jury trial to begin Sept. 14, 2020.
In Friday’s court hearing, it was acknowledged there will be complications selecting a jury for a seven-week trial. The sheer number of affected people listed in the lawsuit is expected to draw out court proceedings.
D&SNG owner Al Harper attended Friday’s court hearing.
Earlier this year, the court ordered documents associated with the case to be suppressed, meaning only lawyers and the court may view them. As a result, many of the case filings are not public.
More than 26 affected parties are listed in the lawsuit who seek compensation for damages as a result of the 416 Fire. Most of those damages are the result of floods from the burn area, though a few people are seeking compensation for fire damage to their property.
Also, a handful of businesses joined the litigation, arguing they lost sales during the 416 Fire, which lasted nearly two months, caused thousands of evacuations, closed public lands and highways, and blanketed the region in smoke most mornings through June.
Carlson acknowledged other parties may join the lawsuit before the trial, but she was adamant it would not push back the September 2020 start date.
“We’re not going to be continuing the case for that to happen,” she said.