On June 1 of 2018, the 416 Fire blazed across the San Juan National Forest. The sixth-largest wildfire in Colorado history triggered thousands of evacuations and severely damaged the local economy. While no Silverton residents were evacuated, the fire came dangerously close to the town’s general area, striking Fruitland Mesa near Montrose and an area close to Cochetopa Hills.
Allegedly, the fire was started by a speeding train. Theresa Blake Grave, a spokeswoman for nearby Durango’s Chamber of Commerce, said, “There has been a lot of controversy and rumors about whether the train started the fire.” In May, before this massive fire, the layered fire protection system worked to extinguish five spot fires that sparked to life along the rails of La Plata County, according to those who helped put out the flames. These spot fires and the devastation caused by the 416 Fire are causing locals to wonder if the train, which draws tourists from around the world, may begin to cause more harm than good.
This wildfire took a devastating toll on Durango’s economy–$33 in June alone. The fire has caused health hazards in the area and turned mountain views into groves of charred stumps, which have already led to numerous cancelled real estate transactions. While the fire did not reach Silverton, these latter effects are likely felt throughout the community. U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents are currently investigating the cause of the fire; the probe could take anywhere from two weeks to two years.
While the 416 Fire did not touch Silverton, fires in southern Colorado are becoming more frequent. As the climate shifts, it brings warmer, dryer weather to an area that has historically seen a large amount of precipitation. If the train did not start this massive fire, it was likely caused by a camper, a dropped cigarette, or a piece of glass magnified by the sun. These small, accidental actions can now cause crippling devastation in this area, and it is advised that Silverton residents take the necessary precautions to protect their homes against fires.