The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, in cooperation with fire agencies from across the region, will pay tribute Sunday to the 19 firefighters who died June 30 in Arizona.
Ladder trucks will hoist a large American flag over the train tracks at College Drive, and the train will blow its whistle 19 times in honor of the firefighters, said Al Harper, owner of the railroad.
He also will donate $19 from each ticket sold for the 8:45 a.m. train to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which will distribute the money directly to the families of the fallen firefighters.
He expects to raise $5,000 to $6,000. Other people and entities have expressed an interest in donating more, he said.
“I know of at least $2,000 more coming in from other sources,” he said.
Harper said he remembers standing at the train depot with his wife, Carole, and watching flames and smoke billow during the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire. Hundreds of firefighters came to Durango and risked their lives to save a town they knew little or nothing about, he said.
“I have the memories of 2002. I’m sure a lot of people hopefully do. I think it’s just a small thing we can do,” Harper said.
When he read about the 19 firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire, he decided to pay tribute and raise money for the families.
“There’s not a lot we can do – pray for them is partly what we can do,” he said. “If we can help a little bit financially, even. Those people are going to face something they never thought they would face, realistically.”
Harper said his son is an accredited firefighter, and he has several employees who watch for fires started by the train.
“Oftentimes, one guy will spot a spark, and he’s there, and who knows?” he said. “Thank God for those guys on our staff that are out there in their fire-protective gear, lugging 40 pounds of gear up and down those mountains trying to make sure we’re safe with the train.”
Agencies planning to pay tribute include Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, Durango Police Department, La Plata County Mounted Patrol, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Silverton San Juan Fire & Rescue Authority, Upper Pine Fire Department, Ouray Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service.