Fire season

Posted by Justin Franz
on Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A D&SNG conductor at Silverton, Colo. October 2017. Photo by Justin Franz.
If you don’t live out west, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to live through a fire season. The dramatic images that dominate the evening news when a fire explodes across the mountains would make outsiders think that everyone is constantly running from a wall of flames, but it is rarely that chaotic. For many in the west, fire season is a natural disaster that unfolds in slow motion.

Yes, homes are lost and sometimes, if the winds suddenly change, people do have to leave with just the clothes on their back. But for the most part, living through a western fire season means getting used to living in a sepia-colored haze. After awhile, everything smells like a stale campfire, and not that nostalgic smell you get roasting marshmallows, but that stale musk that sticks in your clothes for days until you put them in the wash.

Last year, during a particularly smoggy weekend here in Northwest Montana, I heard someone in my neighborhood scream, to no one in particular, “I’m sick of it!” We all knew what he was talking about.

Thankfully, as of this writing, no homes or lives have been lost to the wildfire that is currently burning in the hills north of Durango, Colo. But that does not mean that all is well. Fires can have a devastating impact on people and communities that rely on the tourism industry, and unfortunately that is a hard lesson being learned by the 150 furloughed employees on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad this week.

I know a number of people here in Montana who work in the hospitality business that were in the same position last year when wildfires closed a large part of Glacier National Park. For many, like fishing guides or park rangers, the busy weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day are where they make a big chunk of their annual income.

What’s happening in Durango is particularly frustrating to me because I had the chance to meet a number of the D&SNG’s dedicated employees last fall while visiting the railroad. Nearly everyone I talked with — from locomotive engineers to car hosts — were clearly proud of their work and excited to share the amazing history of the Silverton Branch with visitors. Their passion for the railroad they work on is infectious and I’m positive that none of them want to be sitting at home right now.

Eventually — and hopefully sooner rather than later — those dedicated railroaders will be going back to work. When they do, consider taking a trip down to Durango and buy a ticket to Silverton so those dedicated folks can share their passion for the narrow gauge. You’ll be glad you did.

Until then, pray for rain.

The 416 Fire has impacted thousands of people in and around Durango. To help those evacuated or fighting the fire, considering visiting the Durango Food Bank or the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado.

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