The vintage train was chugchugchugging its usual route out of Durango that sunny morning as tourists marveled at the postcard-pretty canyon. Just a few miles closer to Silverton, a plume of smoke started rising from the steep hillside.
Within minutes, a Good Samaritan tried to douse the flames, state and federal court documents say. Three separate efforts by the scenic railroad company—including one involving a helicopter—tried to put out the flames, too. But the fire burned out of control within minutes. By the time wildland firefighters finally extinguished the fire six months later, 54,000 acres, an area larger than the nearby Mesa Verde National Park, had been charred and recorded as Colorado’s sixth worst wildfire.