New growth in Durango-area blaze as high temps settle in

The Daily Times staff
In this aerial photo taken Sunday, smoke is seen in both the Clear Creek and North Hope/Deer Creek areas. This photo is facing south. The smoke in the foreground is in the North Hope/Deer Creeks area, and the smoke in the background is from Clear Creek.

FARMINGTON — The 416 Fire grew by 234 acres Monday and containment estimates dropped to 36 percent as crews prepare to start controlled burns on the western flank.

Fire commanders warned that communities in and near Durango, Colorado, should expect more smoke and ash today, and drivers on U.S. Highway 550 should watch out for fire crews at work and expect smoky conditions on parts of the roadway.

The fire has charred 35,195 acres. There are 459 personnel on the lines. On Sunday, the fire was 37 percent contained.

MORE:Update: 416 Fire near Durango intensifies as weather stays dry

“Several areas of the fire (are) showing an increase in activity,” the 416 Fire team reported. The noted increased fire behavior is “due to hot, dry, gusty winds, and unstable atmosphere. Fuels are continuing to dry out after precipitation event in mid-June. Near critical fire weather conditions in place for the day.”

Firefighters asked the public to stay away from a water-dipping site about 5 miles north of Chapman Lake, as aerial operations will increase today.

Controlled burns planned

Wind conditions are favorable to resume burnout activities, said Operations Section Chief Alex Robertson of the Portland-based National Incident Management Organization during his online morning briefing.

“With burnout operations planned during the operational window today, the public will see an increase in smoke and ash in communities near the fire area,” a separate morning update from the new fire managers stated.

Residents along the Fall Creek and Junction Creek corridors will see most smoke as firefighters will use the Junction Creek road as a geographic barrier for firing operations, the update said.

Red areas indicate areas of fire spread announced today by firefighters battling the 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado.

Firefighters on the rugged western Division H flank are using the Forest Road 171 corridor as a place to take a stand against the fire’s advance through controlled burns.
“Firefighters will utilize offensive suppression tactics to remove fuels in order to slow and control the advancing fire front along the southwestern fire perimeter on Division H above the Junction Creek road system,” managers said.

Forest Road 171 will become the primary fire line during those burnout operations. 
“The introduction of fire by the hotshots crews and aerial resources along the southwest perimeter will aid in the removal of the ground fuels which will allow fire managers the opportunity to slow the progress of the fire to the southwest while meeting the incident objectives,” the report said.

The fire has been moving at a slow and predictable rate through inaccessible wilderness and advancing toward areas that have clear cuts and other features that give firefighters safer access.

Cleanup crews at work

Crews are working along U.S. 550 and in other areas, and ask the public to let them know if vegetation piles cut by fire crews who have since gone home need to be taken care of.

MORE:Update: New 416 fire boss talks strategy; Purgatory plans reopening

“The public is encouraged to contact fire crews working in their area if vegetation piles have not been addressed and removed,” the report said. “Additional fire information may be obtained along Highway 550 at Honeyville and Needles during daytime operations.”

Smoke may not abate tonight

Fire activity will probably increase as temperatures rise, humidity goes down and daytime winds continue. 

“The increased fire activity and downslope winds in the morning will increase the chance of smoke dispersal along Highway 550 and may have an impact to the communities and public along the highway corridor,” fire commanders reported.

Nighttime conditions do not seem to offer a break.

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

“Temperature recovery overnight will be minimal with predicted lows in the fifties, while the pattern of strong downslope winds will continue throughout the night,” the report said.

This map lists closed areas impacted by the 416 Fire and Burro Fire. The San Juan National Forest remains under Stage 2 fire restrictions, so campfires are banned in open areas.

Air quality in Durango, Bondad and Hermosa will be affected today, and conditions may be impacted in Silverton and Bayfield Wednesday.
Forecasters expect things to get hotter and drier as a high-pressure system develops today and Wednesday.

“Critical fire weather conditions will likely return Thursday through Saturday,” the team reported on the fire’s Inciweb page. “Hot and dry conditions will continue Thursday onward as the area of high pressure continues to move eastward and a new Pacific storm system begins to dig into the Intermountain West and the Great Basin. Winds will begin to increase Thursday and remain southwesterly through Friday.”