Update: People return to homes, businesses as 416 Fire slows

Red Flag Warnings are expected by Friday as temperatures rise and humidity remains low.

The Daily Times staff
  • The fire covered 34,177 acres by Wednesday and was 37 percent contained
  • The San Juan National Forest and many public lands in Durango will reopen with restrictions in place
  • The Burro Fire has covered 3,715 acres and is 53 percent contained with 178 personnel on the lines
Communications Technician Brad Nelson performs maintenance on an overland network repeater, one of 10 on high locations that keep firefighters in contact as they battle the 416 Fire.

FARMINGTON — The 416 fire near Durango, Colorado, showed minimal growth Wednesday, but will start showing more activity now that things are drying out, firefighters reported. 

Fire officials say there is a possibility that Red Flag Warnings may occur, and thunderstorms are possible today and Friday.

The fire covered 34,177 acres by Wednesday and was 37 percent contained. There were 678 personnel on the lines.

All the people who had been evacuated since June 1 due to the fire are back in their homes and businesses.

As of this afternoon, the San Juan National Forest and many public lands in Durango will reopen with some fire restrictions in place.

Change in fire management

As felled trees are cleared and both direct and indirect fire lines are worked on, the management team on the job now leading 700 firefighters is planning to be replaced.

“The normal time an Incident Management Team is assigned to a fire is 14 days, after which they return home to rest and prepare for their next assignment,” fire managers wrote in their Wednesday morning report. “The Rocky Mountain Team will reach this time frame in the latter part of this week.”

The Entiat Hotshots were flown on to Falls Creek Ridge by helicopter Monday and are among the crews that constructed a fireline on the south perimeter of the 416 Fire.

A later update pinpointed the transition date.

"A National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team from Portland, OR will transition with the Rocky Mountain Team on Thursday and assume management of the 416 Fire on Friday morning," the team announced. That team specializes in managing "long duration fires."

Falls Creek Ranch and High Meadows subdivisions remain under pre-evacuation notices, and U.S. Highway 550 remains open with no traffic restrictions.

Bracing for weather

“By Thursday, isolated afternoon and evening thunderstorms may arrive,” the fire team reported. “As the week goes on, a warming trend continues and humidity levels decrease. If wind speeds also increase, this combination may lead to Red Flag Warnings.”

"By Friday, a Red Flag Warning is likely," the latest report stated.

Firefighters again noted that the fire is less active, but not out.

“The west side of the fire is most likely to see fire spread first,” the 416 Fire team said.

“Residents should be aware that smoke will be visible as fuels smolder in already burned areas, and some fuels could kindle with visible flame. The 416 Fire will not be completely cool until the arrival of monsoons.”

Wednesday saw increased activity.

"This afternoon, some interior islands (unburned areas in the black) and small areas near the direct fireline developed hotspots," the Wednesday evening report stated. "Smoke was visible from below. Three helicopters dropped water on these spots, and a squad of hotshots worked with hand tools to mitigate this area. Crews will hold and patrol through this increase in fire behavior before continuing improvements on the firelines."

Firefighters battle blazes with direct fire lines and indirect fire lines. When conditions are too dangerous to directly battle a blaze the indirect lines are prepared to help stem the fire’s advance.

“Direct line on the south perimeter is now complete,” the team said early Wednesday. Hotshot crews on the Falls Creek Ridge “will improve the indirect line that ties from the Junction Creek Road southeast into the direct line. As operations are completed, crews will hold and patrol until critical weather periods are over.”

Forest reopens

After many releases stating the rains were not enough to change fire conditions after a long drought, forest managers changed their minds Wednesday.

A business owner's sign on Main Avenue in downtown Durango, Colorado, thanks firefighters who are battling the 416 and Burro fires.

San Juan National Forest officials acknowledged that their decision to reopen the forest sometime this afternoon may seem like “a quick turnaround” form earlier statements, they said the decision was based on science.

The forest will open (Thursday) afternoon,” the official announcement said. “There are still active fires in the San Juan National Forest. Stay in the know with what you can and cannot do during fire restrictions.”

EFFECTS OF LITTLE RAIN:Drought conditions lead to firework restrictions, concerns

While the rain storms that dumped as much as an inch and a half on the forest didn’t end the Four Corners Region’s drought, the rain lasted long enough to affect fire conditions and at least temporarily diminish fire danger, for Forest Service release stated.

Parts of the Old Colorado Trail between Molas Pass and the Junction Creek terminus are still off limits due to 416 and Burro fire operations.

Durango also reopened some land, but kept fire restrictions on smoking and other forms of open flame.

Today starting at 3 p.m., “all open space and trails in the City of Durango will reopen for use, with the exception of Lake Nighthorse and the surrounding shoreline, which will reopen at 7 a.m. Friday, June 22,” the city announced Wednesday.

Burro Fire continues

The Burro Fire, which was reported June 8 near the Gold Run Trail in the San Juan National Forest, has been burning in timber in very steep terrain on both sides of Bear Creek. It has covered 3,715 acres and is 53 percent contained with 178 personnel on the lines.

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

“Significant rain fell the night and morning of June 16-17 but hot spots still remain that could flare up as things continue to dry out again,” The fire managers reported Wednesday. “Crews are working the fire in full suppression strategy with hand crews and engines.”