416 firefighters hope for rain; Durango-area fire grows 1,710 acres

The Daily Times staff
Drift smoke from the 416 Fire, south of Purgatory Mountain Resort, can be seen in the background of this photo taken Monday morning.

Communities in San Juan County awoke to smoky air for the second day in a row as the 416 fire grew by another 1,700 acres Monday with no clear end date in sight. Fire managers hope some rain shows up later this week to help quell the wildfire.

“Today's weather conditions will moderate fire activity and smoke production,” the 416 Fire team reported today. “Firing operations will continue to clean up unburned islands of fuel and help secure the fire perimeter.” 

“Communities along the Animas River valley from Hermosa to the New Mexico state line will continue to experience dense smoke overnight, clearing around noon,” the Tuesday report said. “Smoke impacts will be felt the most in Hermosa while other down valley areas may see smoke at lesser concentrations than what we have seen over the last several days.”

MORE:416 Fire: Purgatory resort to reopen, Durango area likely safe

The fire had reached 52,778 acres Tuesday morning, having grown by 1,710 acres Monday. The blaze, which is 37 percent contained, has 420 personnel on the lines today and has cost $27.8 million to battle. The cause is still under investigation.

Fire burns in the west side of the 416 Fire in this screen capture from a video posted Monday afternoon on the 416 Fire Facebook page.

North perimeter is the focus now

Purgatory Mountain Resort is back in business, and firefighters on the northern line of the 416 Fire are there as well, attending to the business of improving fire breaks. 

“Any challenge to these lines is not expected to occur in the next few days, and may never occur if forecasted rains arrive by the end of the week,” fire managers said Tuesday.

Drifting smoke can be seen from the resort, and fire crews advise visitors to know which recreational areas are off limits and to get familiar with the area and its roads. A public information center is set up at the resort.

“Although Purgatory Resort is open for summer activities and recreational opportunities, the 416 Fire is still active 3 1/2 miles to the south of the resort,” the 416 Fire Team’s managers warned Monday. “We ask that the public become familiar with the trail and area closures at the Purgatory Resort before recreating in that area. The area closure is in effect to ensure both public and firefighter safety in the surrounding area.”
A free printable PDF of that map is available at https://goo.gl/W3VDRT.

Cooler weather continued to help firefighters Monday.

This screen capture from the 416 Fire team's Monday morning operational breifing shows the new Division O, which is not staffed due to the rough terrain, and the areas within it where the fire grew on Sunday. Overall fire growth was 1,767 acres, partially due to controlled burns in Division H, south of the Division O zone.

“Firefighters on the 416 Fire continue to make good progress on the fireline today,” the 416 Fire team posted Monday afternoon on Facebook. “Crews will continue to be visible near Purgatory Resort as they secure an improve fireline in the area.”

The San Juan National Forest itself is under Stage 2 Fire Restrictions, so smoking outside, use of fireworks, and lighting campfires and charcoal grills are prohibited. La Plata County has issued Stage 3 Fire Restrictions.

Another thing that’s off limits is the use of drones, which interfere with firefighting efforts.

MORE:Aided by SW winds, 416 Fire grows by another 5,400 acres

“Drones are prohibited at Purgatory Resort, in the area and anywhere near wildfires,” the fire team said. “It is illegal and can be deadly if flown near wildfires. Drones interfere with wildland fire air traffic, such as air tankers, helicopters, and other firefighting aircraft that are necessary to suppress wildland fires.”

Fire at 37 percent containment

Firefighters Monday explained what they mean when the say the fire is 37 percent contained, in response to a question on social media.

 “The 37 percent containment we've been at for a while is all the line along Hwy 550 and along the southern perimeter,” the fire team stated. 

They said the only part of the fire where crews are building more containment lines is the southwest perimeter along Forest Road 171. 

“We just completed that yesterday and are still securing it today,” they said. “We won't call it contained until we are reasonably sure it will hold, however that should be very soon.”
The fire managers hope weather will help them.

MORE:Winds fan 416 Fire near Durango; 4,129 more acres charred

“If we don't have to take action to stop the fire up north (like if the weather helps us with higher humidity and rain) we won't build any line up there either and the containment won't increase,” they said. “I know it’s tempting to use containment as a measure of success but in this case it's really not.”

Alex Robertson, Operations Section Chief of fire managers Portland NIMO, said Monday during an operational briefing that aerial firing operations where helicopters dropped flammable plastic spheres to create brushfires ahead of the main fire were complete Monday, with some crews setting fires by hand to complete the fire line.

By Tuesday firefighters reported crews were clearing hoses in some areas and removing pumps.

“Yesterday, fire behavior and spread were moderate,” fire managers reported today. “In the late afternoon, there was fire spread in the South Fork of Hermosa Creek, burning in the wilderness toward the west, adding an estimated 1710 acres to the fire. This fire behavior is expected to continue today.”