More growth expected as 416 Fire increases to 37,488 acres

The Daily Times staff
A Chinook helicopter that can drop up to 2,600 gallons of water hovers in the Fall Creek area, dipping its snorkel and pumping water up into an internal tank as it prepares to battle hotspots in the 416 Fire zone in thi sundated photo.

FARMINGTON — Firefighters today said the 416 Fire near Durango has grown to 37,488 acres and fighting it has cost $24.7 million.

The blaze is back to 37 percent containment.

Firefighters on the inferno’s western front plan to continue to light fires both with ground crews and by helicopter today to deprive the advancing fire of fuel as it works its way toward a fire line on Forest Road 171.

With a Red Flag Warning issued for today due to winds and higher temperatures and low humidity brought by a high-pressure system, fire commanders warn that smoke will remain in the air around the fire zone for several days.

The communities of Durango and Hermosa may see heavy smoke today. Aztec residents may see smoke Friday morning.

"With the forecasted hot and dry weather and change in wind direction to the southwest over the next 24 hours, the local communities may see an increase in fire activity to the north and northwest," fire managers said today. "As the 416 Fire continues to consume fuels within the Hermosa Creek Wilderness south of the Purgatory Ski Resort and along the southwestern perimeter, the probability of an increase in visible smoke to communities along the Highway 550 is greatly increased."

The fire had charred an estimated 35,196 acres as of Wednesday morning. There were 389 personnel on the lines Tuesday, and Wednesday night’s report listed 351. Estimates Wednesday night put the fire at 36,000 acres, but infrared measurements released this morning showed that an additional 1,488 acres had burned.

Hotshot teams are seen starting fire operations in Division H on the southwest edge of the 416 Fire Tuesday morning as crews work to burn underbrush ahead of the fire's advance.

Hot weather helped firefighters

“The fire weather proved advantageous to fire managers on the western portion of the fire in Division H, as they continue to utilize both ground and aerial firing operations to remove the fuels from the handline to the existing fire edge, securing portions of Forest Road 171,” the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) reported Wednesday night.

The fire team used three helicopters to drop water from Falls Creek Lake, and officials say over the next few days as firing operations continue, people can expect to see more smoke and a lot of aerial activity.

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

“Taking advantage of warmer temperatures and daytime heating, crews and aerial ignitions made excellent progress with their firing operations in Division H on the southwest portion of the fire near Forest Road 171,” they said. “Firing operations on the ground were supported by water dropping helicopters from the Durango airport.”

Helicopters also drop “ping pong balls,” as they are called, spheres of plastic that ignite when dropped to the ground from helicopters to start controlled burns in inaccessible areas of the wilderness.

Red areas indicate where the 416 Fire has spread recently. The largest upper left red zone is the Deer Creek area, and the larger lower left red zone is the active Division H where hotshot crews are setting controlled burns.

“The public will continue to see an increase in both smoke and aviation resources over the 416 Fire as the multiday firing operation along the Junction Creek drainage continues,” managers said.

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

Coal engines on hold

The Associated Press reported that the scenic railroad that runs through the southwestern Colorado mountains is waiting for the region to get more rain before resuming full service.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad announced Wednesday that it won't start running coal-fired steam trains until at least July 12, after annual monsoon storms are expected to move in.

The tourist attraction suspended service after a fire in the San Juan National Forest June 1.

The Durango Herald reports some eyewitnesses say the fire started after the train passed by some homes.

Investigators haven't announced the cause of the fire, which has burned more than 56 square miles.

The railroad has been running shorter trips with a diesel engine for the last week. It had hoped to resume full service July 4.

This report will be updated if new information is available.