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Last updated 7:26PM ET
December 11, 2017
KSUT Regional
KSUT Regional
Train Fights Fire, Aids Search and Rescue
(2007-05-21)
(ksut) - HOST LEAD: It's been almost five years since tinderbox dry conditions led to the Missionary Ridge Fire.
Those same conditions also forced the shutdown of Durango's largest summer tourist attraction.
The Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad didn't run trains to Silverton for 40 days in 2002.
That cost the train 4-million dollars in income, and the local economy millions more.
In the five years since the blaze, steps have been taken to keep the train from ever having to shut down again.
At the same time, the trains importance in local search and rescue efforts is also growing.
KSUT's Victor Locke reports.

VICTOR: As the 80-100 year old locomotives of the Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad strain up Hermosa Hill, their steepest climb on the way to Silverton they spew live coals and cinders out their stack along with dense black smoke.
Those cinders ignite small fires along the railroad right of way, an average of six times a day during the summer.
That's why five years ago, tinderbox conditions that existed in the midst of drought, forced the train to shut down for more than a month.
Train owner Al Harper never wants to see that happen again.
HARPER: WE'VE SPENT ABOUT A MILLION DOLLARS ON EQUIPMENT THAT INCLUDES GETTING ALL DIESLES SO WE HAVE QUICK RESPONSE AND WE CAN CARRY WATER AND GEAR UP TO THE RIGHT OF WAY WHERE FIRES MAY BE.
On Friday Harper hosted about two dozen local search and rescue, fire, weather service and other public officials on a train to Cascade Canyon.
The trip let Harper and his staff show off the fire prevention and fighting investments which he says should keep the train from ever having to close down.
HARPER: OUR GUYS ARE HIGHLY TRAINED NOW IN HOW TO ADDRESS FIRE. SO WE'VE GIVEN THEM THE EQUIPMENT WITH THE PUMPS. EVERY TRAIN HAS A BOX CAR WITH A THOUSAND GALLONS OF WATER AND A WATER CANNON. WE HAVE A FIREFIGHTER BEHIND EVERY TRAIN AND A GROUP OF FIREFIGHTERS THAT FOLLOW THE LAST TRAIN.
BUCHANAN: WE CAN PUT THE FIRE OUT THERE WITH THE BOX CAR, WITH THE WATER IN THE BOX CAR.
Along the way, we made a several stops where the fire prevention and firefighting efforts were put on display.
At one stop, Narrow Gauge Superintendent and Vice President of Operations Evan Buchanan talked about devices placed on the coal fired locomotives to reduce the chances of fire along the rails.
BUCHANAN: ON THE LOCOMOTIVE ITSELF, WE PUT STACK SPRAYERS ON. IT'S A CIRCULAR PIPE WITH NOZZLES THAT SPRAY THROUGH THE STEAM EXHAUST AND HIT THE CINDERS AS THEY'RE EXHAUSTED OUT OF THE LOCOMOTIVE.
The railroad's also invested in two seven thousand gallon tank cars that can be pulled buy a diesel engine to spray down either side of the track in fire prone areas, especially along the steep climb at Hermosa Hill, where the steam locomotives often work the hardest.
The railroad's also cut fire breaks parallel to the Hermosa Hill tracks, a move which won praise from Durango Fire and Rescue Authority Deputy Chief Allen Clay.
CLAY: SO WE CAN GET ENGINES AND EQUIPMENT UP HERE. BEFORE IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT TO GET SOMETHING UP HERE QUICKLY AND GO ON DOWN THE RIGHT OF WAY, SO NOW WE CAN GET UP HERE AND WE CAN ACTUALLY GET A TRUCK INSTEAD OF HAVING TO DO IT BY HAND.
Keeping the train running is also a priority for Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton who says the train is taking on a new more important role beyond tourism.
KNOWLTON: WITH THE INCREASED POPULATIONS THAT ARE GOING INTO THE WINDERNESS AND NOW WE'RE STARTING TO SEE AN INCREASE IN THE RAFTING INDUSTRY AND THE KAYAKING ENTHUSIASTS, ALL OF THAT RAISES THE POTENTIAL FOR ACCIDENTS IN THIS VERY REMOTE, INACCESSIBLE AREA. SO THE RAILROAD, ACTUALLY SERVES AS A WONDERFUL TOOL AND RESOURCE FOR THE SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT AND SEARCH AND RESCUE.
Rider ship on the train plummeted the year of the Missionary Ridge fire, to 129-thousand.
That's been slowly climbing since, and train marketing manager Andrea Seid says they hope for 166-thousand riders this year, a return to normal.
SEIG: IT FINALLY LOOKS LIKE WE'RE OUT OF THAT FIVE YEARS, YOU KNOW, IT KIND OF TAKES FIVE YEARS TO REBUILD AFTER A DISASTER LIKE THAT SO WE'RE THINKING IT'S GOING TO BE A REALLY GOOD YEAR.
From KSUT, Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Victor Locke.
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