The San Juan National Forest announced on Wednesday that it would reopen to the public at 3 p.m. Thursday, rescinding the Stage 3 closure order that has been in place since June 12.
The lifted closure order reopens most trails and roads including the shoreline of McPhee Reservoir and lands in Montezuma County, Sheriff Steve Nowlin confirmed on Wednesday. The McPhee and House Creek campgrounds, and the House Creek Road and boat ramp also are reopening.
Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Durango area that closed last week are reopening too, according to a news release from Camela Hooley, acting public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
However, some areas near the Burro and 416 fires will remain closed to public entry, including the segments of the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to the Junction Creek terminus, Hooley said. The BLM lands and the rest of the forest will remain under Stage 2 fire restrictions.
Many trails and roads in the Burro Fire area will remain closed until further notice, said Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.
Closed trails include the Bear Creek, Gold Run, Sharkstooth, Ryman Creek, Salt Creek, Rough Canyon, Morrison, Rio Lado, Grindstone Loop, portions of Aspen Loop Trail, and the Colorado Trail, south from Molas Pass to the Junction Creek Trailhead.
Closed roads include Hillside Drive (FR 436), Roaring Fork (FR 435), Scotch Creek (FR 550), Big Pole Springs Road (FR 401), Little Pole Springs Road (FR 402), Spruce Mill Road (FR 350), Dillons Cabin Road (FR 351), Turkey Creek Road (FR 352), Rock Springs Road (FR 556) and the West Mancos Road (FR 561).
“We want to thank the public for their cooperation during the closure,” Padilla said.
On Thursday, the Burro Fire was 53 percent contained. Crews fighting the fire, which covers 3,747 acres in the Bear Creek area east of Dolores, continued to build fire lines and fuel breaks in Divisions J and N – the northwest and south sides of the fire – to keep it from advancing to private property.
About 1.2 inches of rain fell on the area Saturday and Sunday, giving crews the chance to focus on containment. The fire management team estimated that the fire would be contained by July 15.
“The 416 Fire and Burro Fire no longer pose significant threats to public safety, private properties, infrastructure, and the local economy,” the incident command said Wednesday.
Stage 2 restrictions allow campgrounds, roads, and trails to reopen, and operations to resume for those with permits and contracts for doing business on the public lands.
“While recent messaging has been that one rainstorm would likely not result in much of a difference in fire danger, the weather event that Southwest Colorado experienced this past weekend was not a typical event,” Hooley said.
The storm, attributed to Hurricane Bud, brought up to 1.5 inches of rain – more than the average total for the entire month.
“This was unanticipated relief to the extraordinarily dry and fire-prone conditions in the region,” Hooley said. “Fortunately, the rain was delivered in a steady two-day event,which did not produce mud slides or debris flows.”
Implementation of Stage 3 restrictions was based on meeting seven of 10 criteria including extremely dry fuel, public risk, human-caused fire risk, hot and dry weather, limited resources, and the existing Burro and 416 fires. At the time of the closure, conditions in the forest had met all 10 criteria for two weeks, Padilla said. Six or fewer criteria are projected to be met over the next week, but many out-of-area firefighting resources remain in position to respond to new fires.
Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in place on BLM land. All open fires, outdoor smoking, explosives and use of machines like chain saws that could give off sparks, are banned.
The Montezuma County fire ban, enacted April 16, is still in effect. It prohibits open fires and fireworks in unincorporated parts of the county. Burn barrels equipped with a quarter-inch screen are allowed when used in an area 20 feet in radius and free of vegetation.
La Plata County commissioners planned to discuss Thursday whether to downgrade from Stage 3 to Stage 2 restrictions. Stage 3 restrictions ban the use of coal-fired engines.
If Stage 3 restrictions are lifted, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad could run coal-fired locomotives for the first time since the train suspended service at the outbreak of the 416 Fire.
Even though these factors are likely to rise as the weather becomes hot and dry, they are not likely to repeat at the extreme levels of early June.
Durango Herald reporter Jonathan Romeo contributed to this article.