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Crews protect Purgatory Resort area as 416 Fire continues to grow
FARMINGTON – Firefighters dug in Sunday, creating a fire line around most of the Purgatory Resort area, expecting the 416 Fire to spread. The blaze has charred 22,131 acres as of today and remains 10 percent contained.
The National Forest Service plans to implement Stage 3 fire restrictions Tuesday which would close 1.8 million acres of forest land in Colorado to public access, citing the extreme danger even one abandoned campfire could create.
It's the first full closure of a national forest in Colorado since 2002, which was another very dry year. The closure will remain until sufficient precipitation eases the fire danger.
EARLIER UPDATE: More evacuations ordered as 416 Fire continues to grow
San Juan County has sent one engine company to the 416 Fire to help protect structures. A fire official warned residents of San Juan County to heed fire restrictions here to avoid a local conflagration.
San Juan County Fire Department Wildland Coordinator/Division Chief David Vega said the county fire department is still seeing a lot of illegal burning in San Juan County. Vega said it is important for people to heed the fire restrictions that the county put in place.
Vega said fire danger is extremely high and the cotton from cottonwood trees has begun blowing around.
"The cotton is extremely, extremely susceptible to embers sparking it," Vega said.
He said the county fire department is trying to keep fires from getting big when they do start, but the firefighters need the public's help to prevent fires from starting.
"We'd rather not have to fight any fires at all," Vega said.
Smoke from wildfires in Colorado has impaired air quality in northwest New Mexico. Wochit
Active firefighting saves structures
The Associated Press reported that residents of 2,156 homes have been ordered to evacuate in the 416 Fire area as of Sunday afternoon, according to La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham’s statement to the Durango Herald.
No new mandatory evacuation orders have been posted today. Pre-evacuation notices went out to "127 residences on County Road 205 north from its intersection with County Road 204 to the southern entrance of Falls Creek Ranch," the county government announced.
The new notices were spurred by increased fire activity.
“Last night the fire pushed into areas with structures,” according to a morning report from Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Incident Commander Todd Pechota, whose Type 1 team is managing both the 416 and Burro fires. “Crews engaged in active firefighting.”
No structures were lost and no firefighters were injured. The team credited preventative measures taken by residents with creating a defensible space so crews could save structures.
“The Falls Creek and Lower Hermosa areas are set with hoses, pumps and sprinklers, and are prepared for the possibility of further active firefighting,” the update said.
The La Plata Electric Association helped out by cutting power in some areas.
“At the request of fire personnel, LPEA has deenergized lines in the Electra Lake and Hermosa Creek area,” the organization stated. “This is a preventative measure to help with combatting the 416 Fire. Homeowners in the area are evacuated.”
Verizon Wireless also got into the action, deploying a Satellite Picocell on a Trailer (SPOT) "to provide enhanced 4G LTE voice and data coverage to assist emergency crews at the base camp of the 416 Fire," spokesperson Meagan Dorsch said via email. "Verizon has also provided over two dozen wireless hot spots and mobile devices to emergency crews working to battle the 416 Fire."
Purgatory snow-making equipment on standby
At the north end of the fire, U.S. Highway 550 will stay closed Monday from mile markers 32 to 64, from Cometti Lane to the top of Molas Pass, due to the fire, according to the La Plata County Government Facebook page. That stretch closed yesterday to aid in evacuations of homes in the area.
Fire crews with dozers created a fire line around Purgatory Resort, which reports on its Facebook page that it has its own line of defense if the fire approaches.
“We have our snow making equipment prepped for that situation if it comes to that,” the resort posted.
Dozer line construction continues along the 550 corridor north toward purgatory resort,” officials wrote. “Crews are working to square off this area, strengthening the burnout/protected area to make this area defensible in the event of fire spread.”
“More resources and equipment are being brought to this area to mitigate hazardous fuels,” the report said.
Officials said fire activity is low in the area north of Haviland Lake.
813 firefighters battle 416 Fire
No homes have been lost to the fire, which is 10 percent contained. There are 813 personnel working on the fire. They include 20 hand crews, 44 engines, five dozers and four water tenders and eight helicopters.
The cause of the blaze, which started June 1 in the San Juan National Forest, has not been determined. It comes amid a severe drought in the Four Corners area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet.
Incident commander Pechota told evacuated residents attending a community meeting Saturday that the situation is "going to get worse before it gets better," the Durango Herald reported via The Associated Press.
Burro fire grows
The Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team fighting the 416 fire officially took on the now 500-acre Burro Fire early this morning.
The morning report indicates the fire is moving in a southeasterly direction. The weekend saw emergency crews scouring the trails in search of hikers.
No further updates on the Burro fire are expected today, the report said.
The historic scenic railroad popular with tourists who come to area for hiking, camping and biking has stopped running because of the fire. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is considering offering limited service later in the month with locomotives powered by diesel rather than its typical coal-fired engines, which can throw sparks.
The fire is the largest of several burning in Colorado. Firefighters responded quickly to another fire that started Saturday near Wolcott. Authorities there are asking for the public's help looking for three men seen leaving the area where it started.
In New Mexico, the Santa Fe National Forest, along with portions of three national park sites, closed June 1 because of the fire danger. The Santa Fe forest is among New Mexico's most popular getaways. Portions of national forests in Arizona were also closed in late May because of severe fire conditions.
Full forest closures are not common and the U.S. Forest Service stresses they're only done as a last resort.
Fire burns in southern New Mexico
Ground crews backed by fire engines and helicopters are clearing containment lines around a wildfire to keep it away from homes, a school and power lines in the town of Mescalero on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico.
The fire has burned 2 square miles (5 sq. kilometers) of pine forest on tribal land a mile (1.6 kilometers) from Mescalero with containment lines around 5 percent of the perimeter.
A top-tier incident management team that assumed command Saturday said there was minimal growth of the fire overnight and that a previous, larger size estimate was reduced after more accurate mapping.
No structures have been destroyed but officials said 100 homes were under evacuation orders.
Fire officials have been expecting a busy wildfire season after a dry winter, possibly the worst since 2012 and 2013, when the Black Forest Fire in El Paso County destroyed nearly 500 homes, the most in Colorado’s history.
New Mexico is coming off of its third warmest May on record as climate predictions for June show greater than average chances that the state will see above average temperatures again this month.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.