416 Fire has grown to more than 2,900 acres


FARMINGTON — A forest fire 10 miles north of Durango grew by roughly 600 acres — to 2,933 acres — but is still at 10 percent containment as firefighters step up up efforts to protect structures and mop up hot spots.

U.S. Highway 550 is open only to through traffic in the 416 Fire area today from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but will close immediately if fire behavior brings hazardous conditions to the roadway. Dense smoke caused a sudden closure Monday afternoon.

Firefighters are also battling four lightning-sparked smaller fires in the southeast corner of the Southern Ute Reservation, the largest of which is the 5- to 10-acre Montezuma Creek Fire. More than 100 firefighters are attacking those blazes today in steep terrain along with two engines, a bulldozer and a helicopter.

Firefighters were right on the money with their prediction that Sunday’s lull in activity would give way to a busy afternoon and evening Monday. The fire is expected to "burn actively" for the next several days.

“As predicted, the fire burned actively last night,” said today’s morning update from lead firefighting agency, the Rocky Mountain Type 2 Blue Team.

More than 400 firefighters supported by six helicopters and two air tankers are fighting the fire that has burned about 4.6 square miles (about 12 square kilometers).
The cause of the fire, which began Friday, is under investigation.

Fire spokesman Neal Kephart said the fire on Monday burned down to U.S. Highway 550, but firefighters have so far prevented the fire from crossing the highway by aggressively attacking any spot fires that start on the other side of the road. Several did Monday afternoon.

Crews brought in helicopters to drop water on some areas, according to Monday's report.

“Crews worked overnight patrolling for hot spots, although none were found outside the fire line,” today’s update stated.

Firefighters have brought in wood chippers to reduce piles of cut vegetation and help homeowners create defensible space, and have also staged crews to provide structure protection should that become necessary.

Firefighters, who burned out some vegetation Monday that could have provided fuel for a wildfire, may take to the air today via helicopter to create more “burnout” areas in front of the fire’s active southern flank to deprive the blaze of more fuel.

Discovery of the four new blazes on the Southern Ute reservation Monday brought out air tankers as well as fire crews to suppress those flames.

"Our focus is on containing the existing fires and responding rapidly to new fires," incident commander Rich Gustafson said in a prepared release. The Kerns, Madrid and Round Meadow fires are each presently less than 1 acre.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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