Hot cinders from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad started at least two small wildfires Thursday north of Hermosa in the Animas Valley.
The fires, less than an acre in size, put up a small cloud of smoke visible midmorning from U.S. Highway 550.
Train crews that follow the engines extinguished the fires, said Karola Hanks, spokeswoman with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, which assisted.
Small fires started by the train are not uncommon this time of year. They often occur between Hermosa and Rockridge, which is a steep climb and requires more coal burning, Hanks said.
The railroad has taken many precautions since 2002 to prevent and prepare for wildfires, said DFRA Chief Dan Noonan.
“They’re being very prudent,” he said.
During dry conditions, each train is followed by a patrol car that is equipped with a 30-gallon water tank. The railroad also has a four-person gang car equipped with 300 gallons of water and firefighting equipment that follows the patrol car.
On the trains, three boxcars are retrofitted to carry two 500-gallon water tanks. They are equipped with 400-foot hoses that can spray water up to 250 feet.
The railroad also has two 7,000-gallon water tank cars that can be pulled to an emergency via a diesel locomotive.
The railroad also has chartered a helicopter to fly over the tracks from Durango to Silverton a few times each day to watch for any smoke or fires. The helicopter is equipped with fire-suppression gear to assist with firefighting efforts, if necessary.
Other precautions include wire screens on the locomotive smokestacks that filter hot cinders and locomotive smokestack sprayers that mist cinders as they pass through the spark arrestors.
“They’re on super-high alert, and everything stayed small,” Hanks said.