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Second blaze reported 13 miles east of first fire

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FARMINGTON — The 416 Fire burning north of Durango, Colorado, prompted more mandatory evacuations and led to another shutdown of through traffic on U.S. Highway 550 on the east side of the blaze today.

The fire, which was estimated this morning at 8,691 acres, led to the evacuation of the Falls Creek and High Meadows subdivisions, as well as residences on the west side of County Road 203 between Trimble Lane and Cometti/Mead Lane, according to the La Plata County government Facebook page. Law enforcement officials began going door to door at 1:30 p.m. to notify residents of the mandatory evacuation order, and a CodeRED notification was sent, as well. The order affected an estimated 220 residences.

Residences east of County Road 203 east to the Animas River between Cometti/Mead/Albrecht lanes south to Trimble Lane remained under a pre-evacuation order this afternoon.

U.S. Highway 550 temporarily closed

The evacuation led to the shutdown of traffic on U.S. Highway 550 today, but officials plan to reopen the roadway from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday to through traffic only with a law-enforcement escort. The highway also was closed early on Friday, and fire officials continue to emphasize the road can be closed at any time if conditions warrant that.

Command of the blaze was taken over today by the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Type 1 team that has already been at the site for the past few days. Rob Powell, the team's operations sections chief, gave a briefing this morning in which he said the fire grew by approximately 1,500 acres between Friday morning and this morning.

He said officials have divided the fire into two branches, north and south, and have teams battling the blaze from different approaches and with different strategies. The team's priority today was to protect the structures and private property on the south side of the blaze in the Hermosa area, he said, but he said firefighters faced difficult conditions in that region overnight.

"Last night, we had significant down-valley winds on the south edge of the fire," Powell said.

Most of the fire's growth is occurring on the west side, he said, noting that much of that territory is public land where there are fewer structures to protect. The terrain there makes it difficult to get firefighters out of the area in case of an emergency, he said, so fire officials are not deploying crews there at this point.

Another area of emphasis for fire officials is the north branch of the fire near the Purgatory ski area, Powell said, and significant resources are being devoted to checking the spread of the fire there. Purgatory officials announced on Friday they were suspending operations over the weekend.

Powell also said firefighters continue to focus their efforts on keeping the fire limited to the west side of U.S. Highway 550.

There were 683 firefighters battling the blaze, and containment held steady at 10 percent today.

Second fire reported Friday

West of the 416 Fire, a second blaze, the Burro Fire, was reported Friday. The two fires, which are located approximately 13 miles apart on opposite sides of the Hermosa Creek watershed, prompted San Juan National Forest officials to implement a closure of part of the forest immediately to protect public health and safety, and to provide for firefighter safety during fire operations, according to a press release from the agency. The closure prohibits all public entry into the closure area of the forest, including campgrounds, trails, trailheads and National Forest System roads.

During his morning briefing, Powell cited a long list of aircraft that are being used to battle the 416 Fire in addition to the teams on the ground.

"We've got really good air resources," he said.

An evacuation center and shelter that was established last week at Escalante Middle School, 141 Baker Lane in Durango, remains open 24 hours a day. La Plata County officials say evacuated residents have been asked to check in at the center to receive credentials for re-entry when conditions allow for the evacuation orders to be lifted.

The La Plata County Commission will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to consider enacting Stage 3 fire restrictions in the county. The commission meets 1101 E. 2nd Ave. in Durango.

The county also is opening a disaster assistance center at the La Plata County Fairgrounds from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday to connect residents impacted by the fire with resources and services. The center is being opened in partnership with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.

Food and supplies are being made available to evacuees through the Durango Food Bank, which is also accepting donations to help meet the additional demand. Donations can be dropped off at 194 Bodo Drive, Suite C. Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation to aid the relief effort is encouraged to do so through the Community Emergency Relief Fund, which has been established for broad-based community emergencies in Southwest Colorado. To donate to CERF, send a check to The Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1673, Durango, CO 81302 or donate online at swcommunityfoundation.org.

The 416 Fire began on June 1. No cause of the blaze has been reported by authorities.

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