In a sure sign of spring, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has begun burning weeds and dry brush along its tracks north of Durango.
Railroad workers burned about a 90-foot section Wednesday morning just north of the Val-Air Gliderport near Sleeping Beauty Ranch.
“It’s something we do every spring,” said Evan Buchanan, vice president of operations and superintendent. “It’s a mitigation technique to prepare for the summer train service when things dry out.”
A red-flag warning – a forecast of high wind, low humidity and dry fuels – was issued Wednesday, but Buchanan said the railroad stopped burning in the morning before the winds picked up.
Several railroad employees have “red cards,” meaning they are trained and certified in wildland firefighting. They are the same guys who work on the tracks, Buchanan said.
More burning is expected during the coming weeks, he said.
“Expect some more,” he said. “It’s pretty akin to a farmer burning a field or a ditch.”
The railroad takes several precautions to prevent wildfires, including equipping smokestacks with mesh screens to help block hot cinders from escaping and trailing each train with a pop car to look for spot fires. The railroad also plans to have a helicopter on standby this summer that will be equipped with a bucket to make water drops in the event of an emergency.
A dry early spring has prevented vegetation from growing at the rate it usually does, which means there will be less fuel when it dries come summertime, said Karola Hanks, fire marshal with Durango Fire Protection District.
“Right now, we’re not having as much growth as you would normally see because we just don’t have the moisture,” she said.
Climatologists predict above-average moisture May through July in Southwest Colorado because of an El Niño weather pattern.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to it,” Hanks said. “We’re still in a, ‘Please be very careful.’ We have winds regularly.”