Fire crews continue to battle blaze near Durango, 550 closed by smoke

The Daily Times staff
This photo provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation shows heavy smoke that descended on the roadway of Highway 550 today, causing the state to close the highway for safety reasons.

FARMINGTON – The 416 Fire burning about 10 miles north of Durango has reached 2,402 acres. Firefighters expected it get more active this afternoon after a Sunday that saw the blaze grow by just 147 acres.

Highway 550 was closed shortly before 2:30 p.m. after shifting winds brought heavy smoke into the area, and was not expected to reopen today.

"The highway is scheduled to reopen from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, but that is subject to change at any moment depending on the potential for rapidly changing fire behavior," according to a 6 p.m. update on the La Plata County Government Facebook page.

About 1,500 residents in the area have been evacuated because of the fire and hundreds of others have been put on pre-evacuation notice, the Associated Press reported.

“Yesterday’s rain did little to mitigate critically dry vegetation” according to this morning’s update from the lead firefighting agency, the Rocky Mountain Blue Team. 

The blaze, which started Friday morning, is 10 percent contained with the most activity taking place on the fire’s southern flank.

There were 384 fire personnel and more than 20 aircraft at work this morning. Some firefighters are in Hermosa, which is under a pre-evacuation notice, assisting residents by helping to create defensible space around structures. Fire crews are also removing hazards and patrolling for hot spots along Highway 550.

The 416 Fire grew by just 147 acres Sunday, but firefighters expect more activity today, especially on the fire's southern flank.

County Manager Joanne Spina proclaimed a state of local disaster in unincorporated La Plata County, "pursuant to her authority as chief executive officer of La Plata County," La Plata County's Facebook page announced Monday. "...The effect of this declaration is to activate the response and recovery aspects of any and all applicable local and inter-jurisdictional disaster emergency plans and to authorize the furnishing of aid and assistance under those plans."

Highway 550 reopened in the morning but was closed this afternoon when the wind shifted. The State of Colorado warned those joining supervised convoys through the fire area to watch out for fire crews and follow the rules.

Officials do not expect the fire to cross the roadway.

“US 550 north of Durango will again be temporarily opened from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Lisa Schwantes said in a press release. Motorists leaving Silverton tonight were warned to be on that road by 5:15 p.m.

“Access will be limited to one-lane alternating traffic,” the release said. “It is critical that motorists follow the escort vehicle and remain in their lane. Do not pass. The far-west lane is being utilized by firefighting crews and equipment.”

There’s no stopping between Durango and Silverton for recreational purposes when convoys are running. 

Residences that have been evacuated may be visited by residents to collect emergency supplies and medicines when the highway is open, but people are not allowed to stay. All evacuation and pre-evacuation orders remain in place, officials said.

The Hermosa Watershed was closed today by the San Juan National Forest, according to the Rocky Mountain Blue Team’s noon information update.