416 Fire: Wednesday storm may bring heavy rains to danger zones

John R. Moses
The Daily Times
This map illustrating potential flood zones in the 416 Fire zone was released Friday by La Plata County, Colorado, officials.

FARMINGTON — The outgoing head of 416 Fire operations Monday urged pre-evacuation zone residents to pay attention to public safety announcements as heavy rainfall is expected soon for the area burned by the 54,000-acre blaze.

“Our forecasters now tell us that the monsoonal moisture is moving up from the south and predicted to be in this area by Wednesday,” Operations Section Chief Alex Robertson said in his final online Facebook briefing Monday.

His long-term fire management team from Portland, Oregon, the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO), started pulling up stakes Monday as control of firefighting efforts reverts to the U.S. Forest Service today. 

MORE ON 416 FIRE:Rain keeping 416 Fire in check

Robertson said the north end of the fire has received quite a bit of rain from recent storms, but the south end of the fire has not. Some of the areas most prone to flash flooding and runoff are in the south end of the burn scar.

The San Juan National Forest is releasing fire information via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SanJuanNF/, and La Plata County is handling flood and other advisories via https://www.facebook.com/LaPlataCounty/.

That county last week issued preliminary evacuation notes to homeowners in possible danger zones.

Burn data released

A team of experts assembled by the San Juan National Forest released a report July 6 showing the severity of impacts to 416 Fire burn areas indicating that 47 percent of the more than 51,000 affected acres were moderately burned and just 7 percent were labeled “high severity.”

Nine percent was unburned within the 416 Fire zone, and 37 percent was burned less severely.

In areas with the most severe burn levels, soil is less able to absorb moisture than in other areas, meaning they have a greater chance of flash floods and flowing fire debris.

MORE 416 FIRE COVERAGE:Flash flood watch on as storms approach

The areas with the highest probability for erosion included Tripp Gulch and Dyke Canyon, while the Falls Creek and Bells Canyon areas were tagged as areas of concern for debris flow.

Debris flows are also expected in the main Hermosa drainage, “but will likely dissipate due to the low gradient of the channel,” forest managers said in a news release.

Due to the rugged nature of many burn areas, officials say they hope to mitigate impacts from flooding or debris flows by warning people about approaching major storms so they can evacuate.

A report summary is available on both remaining fire information Facebook pages.

Aerial patrols

Wet weather has brought lightning into the mix of fire dangers in the San Juan National Forest. 

Now efforts have begun to spot small fires that might be sparked by lightning strikes.
“Wildfire aircraft are currently conducting reconnaissance flights throughout the San Juan National Forest and surrounding areas, including Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs managed lands,” the San Juan National Forest said today.

“The pilots are scouting areas of recent smoke reports. They also receive a daily map of recent lightning strikes as these are specific areas of concern."

Recent thunderstorms and their lightning strikes resulted in 11 smoke reports — seven of them resulting in wildfires. 

MORE ON 416 FIRE:Price of fighting blaze nears $29 million

“Those fires ranged in size from 0.10 acre to 3.2 acres,” the Forest Service reported Sunday night. “The last human caused fire occurred four days ago on July 4. That fire was 0.10 acre in size.”

Forest Service officials reminded forest users that recent rains haven't ended the drought or high fire danger conditions. Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in effect throughout the San Juan National Forest, they said.

The fire is 50 percent contained and was last estimated at 54,129 acres in size. The most recent cost estimate of fighting the blaze is listed at $30.4 million, and its cause remains under investigation.

PAST 416 FIRE COVERAGE:Purgatory resort to reopen, Durango area likely safe