Fire team leaders urge patience as crews battle blaze

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FARMINGTON — The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, had significant growth on its northwest flank as firefighters worked on the southwest fire lines to keep the blaze away from inhabited areas.

“The 416 Fire grew 4,129 acres yesterday, the largest areas of growth occurred to the west and north this period,” the 416 Fire team announced this morning. “The largest areas of growth occurred in the NW section of the heat perimeter.”

That area, which is wilderness, is rugged and not safe for firefighters, National Incident Management Organization Operations Section Chief Alex Robertson said during yesterday’s video briefing.

Today, he said, a close eye is being kept on the north edge below Purgatory Resort. The fire is being tracked from the air, and "we don't anticipate Purgatory being threatened today."

The fire, despite yesterday's growth, "is still deep in the rough country," he said during today's fire briefing.

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

The fire so far has scorched 41,617 acres, 670 of those private land and the rest in the San Juan National Forest. The cost of the firefighting effort has reached $25.6 million. There are 357 personnel assigned to the fire.

"Fire continues to move toward the north," the fire team's morning report stated. "Crews will continue to reduce the potential for future ignitions on the north and east perimeter. Fire crews and track vehicle chippers will stay in the area to continue clearing and chipping brush piles along the Durango-Silverton Railway train tracks."

Strategy, limitations discussed

Today fire commanders paused to let those in the community who may be impatient for them to quell the huge blaze know the limitations of modern firefighting.

“We have never 'backed off' our efforts. This has been and remains a full suppression fire,” the fire team said Friday. “That said, there are some areas we cannot take direct action — the north and northwest perimeters are in steep, ugly country where firefighters cannot work safely and we cannot get them out if something happens."

The plan, they said on the 416 Fire Facebook page, is to prepare fire lines in defensible spaces in front of the fire, and they’ll act when the fire gets to those lines.

“In other areas, we have been very successful in meeting our objectives,” they noted. “We have kept the fire away from Durango and off Hwy 550, and no homes have burned."

Burnout work to the east of Forest Road 171 along the Colorado Trail was designed to “keep the fire from hooking around to the west and coming back to Durango. We continue to burnout areas along the west and Southwest that will keep the fire from threatening Durango in the future.”

“Yes, the fire is bigger and will get bigger. Yes, there will be smoke,” they said. “But Mother Nature and the terrain are really in charge of what the fire does and all we can do is take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. The idea that we have enough water and enough people to dump water on a 41,000-acre fire and put it out is not realistic. Our job is to minimize damage and put it out where we can when we have the chance.”

Within an hour, the fire team's Facebook post had received about 70 supportive messages.

Gusty winds in the forecast

“An increase in fire activity is anticipated in the northwest perimeter of the Deer Creek drainage,” the  morning report said. “Hot and dry weather, winds out of the southwest and changing wind patterns are forecasted for the day.”

The fire is most active near the Hermosa Creek and Deer Creek drainages. 

“The large fire growth from the Hermosa Creek Wilderness will be routinely monitored by air resources,” fire managers said. “Using the dip sites along Highway 550, air operations will continue to work the fire all day as they drop water on hot spots within the fire perimeter.”

Firefighters in the busy Division H at the southwest edge of the fire are working to maintain a fire line at Forest Road 171.

PREVIOUSLY: Fire crews use controlled burns to slow 416 Fire

Some people tracking the fire on social media were surprised this morning at the fire’s growth, as videos posted yesterday stated fire growth was slow and steady. 

The fire team did not post the usual evening update, and some Facebook commenters took notice.

Fire managers explained that things changed quickly yesterday afternoon, after 2 p.m.

“We received gusty SW winds through the afternoon and into the evening that contributed to that large growth,” the fire team said in response to a social media post. “We are also starting to see this long-term drying and increased temperatures show growth in the higher elevations which we hadn't before. Much of the growth was the (north, northwest and northeast) in the wilderness where there is little access. The priority operations are in (Division H) keeping the fire north of Durango.”

Firefighters are working in the No Buck Creek area, continuing burn operations that started two days ago.

“Today in Division H, firing operations will proceed to advance north along Forest Road 171 toward the end of the road where it meets Sheep Head Basin,” the report said. “Crews will remain holding the containment line by strengthening handline and actively engaging in mop up procedures with aerial support from water dropping helicopters.”

Information centers open today

Fire managers warn that this is not a spectator sport.

“Fire operations, especially involving aircraft, can be fascinating to watch but dangerous,” the morning report noted. “Stopping along Highway 550 to view dipping operations is not allowed due to the safety concerns from overhead aircraft.”

Likewise, many trails are still under a closure order in the fire area, such as trails that tie into the Colorado Trail off of Highway 550 from the Molas Trailhead south to the Junction Creek Trailhead.

Two information stations will be staffed today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Done Deal Thrift Store shopping center on at 3101 Main Avenue and at the City Market off of 9th Street and Camino del Rio in Durango.

Go to www.cotrip.org. for road information and La Plata County’s 416 Fire Interactive Map is at https://bit.ly/416fire for up to date evacuation and fire information.

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