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Smoke from wildfires in Colorado has impaired air quality in northwest New Mexico. Wochit

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DURANGO – Overnight rain further dampened the fire lines and continued to check the 416 Fire’s progress today, improving visibility for now and giving fire crews a chance to move into zones that earlier could have been hazardous.

Durango’s business owners saw sparse morning pedestrian traffic downtown, but attributed the lull to Father’s Day and the occasionally wet weather rather than any worries about the wildfire scaring off visitors.

The weekend rain, a reopened highway and clearer air offered a spark of hope in tourist-dependent Durango that things could improve soon after two weeks of crushing economic conditions. Locals are organizing a fund to help workers impacted by the fires.

More evacuees returned to homes and businesses  today — but were warned to keep an eye on official websites for updates.

UPDATE: A map of evacuation and other affected areas in and around Durango

Highway and businesses open

Traffic on U.S. Highway 550 proceeded without escort restrictions today for the first time in weeks.

“I see that as a vast improvement over what we were experiencing last week,” said Durango Area Tourism Office and Durango Welcome Center spokesperson Theresa Blake Graven.

Graven said the closure of the San Juan National Forest, Silverton's historic narrow gauge railroad and all public parks and open space owned by the city and the county has put a crimp in the local economy.

She said one out of four local jobs is in the tourism industry.

“We’re working on a fund to help those employees who have been laid off or furloughed,” Graven said.

She noted the many businesses that are still open downtown and attracting customers, despite the unprecedented public land closures. “There is still a lot to do here.”

No day off for fire crews

The blaze had charred more than 50 square miles and was 25 percent contained this morning as 1,111 people spent Father’s Day on the lines. A video produced by the 416 Fire Team contained family greetings for firefighters, as signs around town thanked the crews for their hard work. 

There were 11 Type 1 hand crews, 13 Type 2 hand crews, 56 fire engines, 12 dozers, 5 water tenders, nine helicopters and two fixed wing aircraft on the job today.

A good drenching

The 416 fire received a quarter inch of rain Saturday into Sunday. The nearby Burro fire received a bit more rain.

“Fire behavior will still be limited on the 416 Fire today,” the 416 Fire Team announced in a morning roundup. “There should be little to no growth. Some heavy fuels may continue to burn. The chance of ignition is minimal.”

The Burro Fire also exhibited limited fire activity. There were 152 firefighters battling the 3,715-acre fire in steep terrain Sunday. That fire is 12 percent contained.

Scattered showers gave way to partly cloudy skies and some patchy fog clung to ridgelines above the Durango area today. The area had a daytime high of around 70 degrees and higher than usual humidity with low winds yielding to occasional 18-mile-per-hour gusts.

Forecasters say the lull is temporary, as the region will start drying out again fast Monday as sunny weather and above normal temperatures return to southwest Colorado.

The causes of both the 416 and Burro fires are still under investigation.

More: Here is what you need to know about the Burro Fire

Fire isn’t out yet

Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Response Team spokesperson Scot Davis warned of the misconception that rain has doused the fire, the Associated Press reported.

He said it kept the blaze from spreading, but crews are still putting out hot embers that could ignite dry trees, grass and shrubs. Fire officials also are worried that rain could cause flash floods in the burn scar, which now has much less vegetation to hold back runoff.

"It's going to come down at some point," Davis said at a community meeting this morning.

Today saw evacuees on the east and west sides of U.S. Highway 550 from the Glacier Club neighborhood to Needles return to their homes and businesses.

At noon today, "evacuated residents and businesses in the Hermosa area can return to their homes and businesses. This includes County Roads 201 and 202 and County Road 203 north from Cometti/Mead Lane south to Trimble Lane," the La Plata County Government Facebook page announced.

Pre-evacuation orders for that area, and all areas from the west side of County Road 203 east to the Animas River and north through San Juan County have been lifted, the announcement stated.

"Residents in the Falls Creek area remain under evacuation orders, and pre-evacuation notices remain in effect for residences and businesses on the west side of County Road 203 from Trimble Lane south to the U.S. Highway 550 intersection, the 1000 block of County Road 204 to the Colorado Trail access, and County Road 205 north from the intersection of County Road 204 to the Falls Creek Ranch subdivision entrance," the announcement said.

While many evacuees have gone home, the status of evacuation areas can change due to fire behavior. Call the La Plata County Emergency Operations Center at 970-385-8700 or visit www.co.laplata.co.us for up-to-date information on evacuations and roda closures. 

La Plata County’s 416 Fire Interactive Map can be found at https://bit.ly/416fire.

John R. Moses is the News Content Director of The Farmington Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4624 or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

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