A federal judge has ruled that a trial in which the U.S. government seeks to recover an estimated $25 million from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for fighting the 416 Fire will take place in Denver.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn issued an order this week for a jury trial to start Sept. 13, 2021, at the Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse in Denver.
The U.S. government filed the lawsuit in July 2019, one year after the fire, alleging a cinder emitted from a locomotive started the wildfire, which burned an estimated 54,000 acres north of Durango.
The D&SNG, for its part, has denied it started the wildfire, and in recent weeks, its lawyers have pushed for the trial to be held in Durango. The D&SNG’s attorney, Richard Waltz, declined to comment.
“Conducting the trial in Durango is appropriate as it would allow the citizens of the area affected by the 416 Fire to serve as jurors and hear this matter,” the D&SNG attorneys wrote in a Sept. 16 court filing.
The D&SNG’s attorneys also noted it would be more convenient to hold the trial in Durango because most witnesses live here.
On Oct. 14, U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn filed a response that said, given the current uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of holding trials, the court should wait to determine where the trial will be located.
“It is uncertain when trial in this matter will take place,” Dunn wrote. “Moreover, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, trial may be delayed until as late as 2022.”
Jeffery Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, declined to comment.
Judge Blackburn did not issue an explanation in his order for why the trial will be held in Denver. A request for comment to the courts was not returned.