Fire Update: 416 crews battle 'fire with fire' to slow blaze

John R. Moses
The Daily Times
Firefighters used flammable plastic spheres dropped from helicopters yesterday to set backfires in the Clear Creek area the 416 Fire Division H zone on the western edge of the fire.

FARMINGTON — Firefighters camped out along the western flank of the 416 Fire Tuesday night as Forest Road 171 was established as the Division H fire line. Crews are burning out vegetation in advance of a blaze creeping through wilderness toward more defensible areas. 

The fire has charred an estimated 35,196 acres. There are 389 personnel on the lines.

Fire size estimates were affected by the inability of infrared instruments to map the fire’s western boundary Tuesday night, including a new area burned near Deer Creek during a brief advance Tuesday afternoon.

"The increase in fire activity today was fuel, topography and weather driven, it was not a result of the burnout operations conducted on the western perimeter of the fire," 416 Fire managers said Tuesday night via Facebook.

FIRE UPDATE: 416 Fire near Durango intensifies as weather stays dry

Helicopters will assist ground crews by dropping flammable devices into inaccessible areas while ground crews continue their work in prepared areas.

"Operations included dropping ping pong balls, or plastic ignition spheres, from helicopters which catch fire as they make contact with the ground," fire managers reported this afternoon. "Additionally, aircraft was used to transport water and reduce hot spots near the fire perimeter."

“Hotshot crews were able to work late into the night on Tuesday, successfully meeting objectives with the firing operations along the western edge of the fire in Division H,” the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) reported today.

Fighting fire with fire

“This morning, Hotshot crews will continue to introduce fire on the constructed handline south of Buck Creek,” NIMO managers said. “The introduction of fire along the constructed handline into the Junction Creek Road will help to slow the spread of the main fire to the west by removing ground fuel from the path of the advancing front.”

Helicopters working from the Durango-La Plata County Airport will collect water in their buckets to drop on hot spots.

“The public is encouraged to limit access along the Fall Creek drainage as helicopters will be utilizing the portable dip site north of Turtle Lake on County Road 205 throughout the day,” fire managers said.

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

A smoke column rose late Tuesday afternoon when the 416 Fire made an unexpected but short-lived advance in the Deer Creek area on the fire's northwest edge.

Deer Creek event short-lived

There was one surprise Tuesday, according to operations section chief Alex Robertson of the Portland-based National Incident Management Organization.

Tuesday, late in the afternoon, Robertson said the fire “organized” and made a run in the Deer Creek area — but the advance didn’t last long.

“It kind of popped a big column, then it fell down quickly,” he said. “So it got into something that it liked, the fire did, it burned intensely and then settled down,” Robertson said during his online morning briefing.

Dry, and getting hotter

“The forecasted high temperatures, low relative humidity and strong winds throughout the fire area today caused the 416 Fire to increase in activity and intensity, thus causing the fire to spread to the north into the Hermosa Creek Wilderness,” fire managers said Tuesday night.

Operations section chief Alex Robertson of the Portland National Incident Management Organization shows the area where the 416 Fire made a run through some wild land Tuesday afternoon before slowing again as he conducts an online operational briefing Wednesday morning.

Heavy smoke is expected over the next few days, and, by the end of the week, increasing winds and other factors may lead to Red Flag Warnings across the region.

“With the forecasted weather, the local communities may see an increase in fire activity to the north as the 416 Fire moves deeper into the Hermosa Creek Wilderness,” the 416 Fire team said.

Health officials have issued air-quality warnings for areas ranging from Honeyville to the Colorado/New Mexico border. For air quality updates visit

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

Crews engaged in cleanup and vegetation removal work Tuesday and today along the U.S. Highway 550 corridor, securing existing fire lines and helping with fuel reduction near homes.

“Crews continued to work with homeowners with the chipping of vegetation piles created during fire suppression activities south of Purgatory Resort,” the Tuesday evening report stated.

For up to date information, visit La Plata County’s 416 Fire Interactive Map is at