416 Fire now 45 percent contained

Thursday, July 5, 2018 3:12 PM
The 416 Fire as seen Saturday from La Plata Canyon. After growing 482 acres Tuesday, officials say the 53,260-acre fire is now 45 percent contained. Similarly light fire behavior is expected Wednesday thanks to moisture brought by recent thunderstorms.

A successful burnout operation over the past few days has allowed firefighters to build a successful containment line along the southwest perimeter of the 416 Fire. Officials say the 53,260-acre fire is now 45 percent contained.

There was minimal fire behavior on Tuesday as the fire grew 482 acres, significantly less growth than what was seen the prior two days. Officials expected similar fire behavior Wednesday.

“We were just shy of 500 acres growth yesterday,” said Brandalyn Vonk, a spokeswoman for the National Incident Management Organization team. “In the past, we were seeing 4,000-, 5,000-acre days, and then the past two days we’ve seen just under 2,000. It’s slowly been decreasing.”

The decrease in fire activity is because of the moisture that thunderstorms have brought to the area. There is a 10 percent chance of rain Wednesday, and the probability of moisture will increase throughout the weekend. Forecasters predict that a significant wetting rain will begin Friday, with predictions calling between 0.1 and 0.25 inches of rain.

“We are 100 percent expecting rain on Friday,” Vonk said. “We are very confident of moisture moving into the area.”

The increasing chance of thunderstorms Wednesday can cause dry lightning and strong erratic winds that can reach 50 mph. However, the gusts are usually brief and the wind is not expected to radically influence fire behavior as the forest fuels become wet, Vonk said.

Crews utilized the lack of fire spread to remove water-handling equipment from the south end of the fire, which should be completed today. Crews are also beginning to remove an extensive network of pumps, hoses and portable water tanks from the protection lines on the north end of the fire around Purgatory Ski Resort. Engine crews are also removing structure-protection equipment from the Falls Creek subdivision.

The reduced fire spread will cause smoke emissions from the fire to diminish rapidly, though Durango and Hermosa will continue to experience unhealthy levels of smoke, which should lift in the afternoon.

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“Even though we have a decrease in smoke from the fire itself, that smoke can still settle down into the valleys once those temperatures cool,” Vonk said.

A total of 459 personnel are working on the 416 Fire. Five helicopters continue to be available for bucket drops, though some resources are being released from the fire to be re-mobilized to higher priority fires in the region. Currently, 10 wildfires are burning throughout Colorado.

The Burro Fire, two miles west of the 416 Fire, is currently at 4,545 acres and is 40 percent contained. Though the two fires are close in proximity, there is practically zero chance of the fires merging, Vonk said.

“They look close when you’re putting those two fires on a map, but that’s as the crow flies,” Vonk said. “You also have to account for that fire traveling up and down both sides of a ridge and some of those ridges are over 10,000 feet in elevation.”

Wednesday is the 4th of July, but firefighters won’t spend much time celebrating. However, they will be served burgers, hot dogs and root beer floats from their food unit, and were presented with a slideshow featuring pictures of firefighters battling the fire during their morning briefing.

Though many lands remain open for the 4th of July, there is still one closure area. La Plata County Road 124 from the junction of County Road 124A remains closed. Trails and roads that connect to the closure area are being patrolled by law enforcement agencies. Residents and visitors are reminded that fireworks are prohibited on national forest and county lands.