For the first time since last week’s rains, the June 9-10 remnants of Hurricane Bud from the Pacific Ocean, the 416 Fire put up a plume visible from Durango on Sunday.
Bethany Urban, a public information officer for the 416 Fire, said the plume was coming from the west side of the fire, a front of the blaze that fire officials are allowing to burn as that edge doesn’t threaten lives or property and is in rugged terrain inaccessible to firefighters without endangering them.
“We are seeing increased activity in the Clear Creak area on the west border of the fire. We are estimating the fire has grown in that area about 70 acres in a 24-hour period,” Urban said Sunday afternoon.
With dry, hot and windy weather conditions on Sunday, Urban said fire officials expected some pick up in activity.
“The area (where the plume is coming from) is behaving as expected. We do have red flag conditions in play, high temperatures, drying fuels and a good wind. But the fire is not spreading fast, and it’s spreading to the west, where there are no risks to lives or structures,” she said.
A red flag warning went into effect t 11 a.m. and extends to 8 p.m. Sunday – with conditions primed for active fire behavior on the 416 and Burro fires in Southwest Colorado.
National Incident Management Organization team issued a news release Sunday morning that estimated growth of the 416 Fire could range anywhere from 5 acres to 100 acres for the day.
According to the news release, on Sunday, the combination of drought-stressed fuels, topography and wind will lend itself “to high rates of spread once fuels do ignite.”
Urban said the winds are blowing south, southwest sending the smoke toward Hermosa and Durango and creating the visible plumes.
According to the news release, as temperatures remain warm and fuels continue to dry out, more heat sources are appearing and showing increased activity. Sunday’s high north of Durango is expected to be 81 degrees and humidity levels are expected to range from 10 percent to 13 percent.
The NIMO team had expected the fire was going to be most active on the west side, near Clear Creek on Sunday, similar to Saturday’s activity.
The team had expected multiple areas of visible smoke, including columns. Overnight aerial observation estimated 20 to 30 acres of spread on Saturday.
The west side of the fire is being monitored by air, Urban said.
While officials will not insert firefighters along the fire’s west side, they will continue to monitor that front by air to ensure it doesn’t pose any risks. However, the risks to firefighter safety on the west side isn’t worth the reward, according to the Sunday morning news release on the fire.
“You have to weigh the values of having the fire burn over there versus the risk of putting firefighters into that country, which would be very dangerous,” said Bob Summerfield, spokesman for the National Incident Management Organization team on Saturday.“We would love to see the fire go out over there. It’s not that we want to let it continue burning, but the only way to achieve that, it would be a great cost and risk to human life. The values just don’t warrant that.”
The 416 Fire, which started June 1, about 10 miles north of Durango, is listed at 34,378 acres and at 37 percent containment. Total personnel battling the blaze on Sunday is listed at 466 by the NIMO team. As of Sunday, the blaze has cost $22.2 million.
On Sunday, the Burro Fire, to the west of the 416 Fire, is listed at 3,756 acres and 53 percent contained. It has cost $2.35 million to fight and 70 firefighters are battling it.
Crews continue chipping and cleanup operations in many areas of the 416 Fire, especially along the eastern and southeastern perimeter.
The NIMO team said time and effort by many residents in mitigating their properties along the 416 Fire’s southern and eastern perimeter paid off. And fire officials encourage all residents to continue to build defensible space around their homes.
On Monday, a Burned Area Emergency Response team, a BAER team, assigned to the 416 Fire will hold its first meeting to prepare for remediation. Assessments and subsequent efforts to remediate the area will be coordinated with the state of Colorado, La Plata County and the city of Durango.
On Saturday, crews monitored and improved existing fire lines.
“The plan is pretty much the same going forward each day,” Summerfield said. “Basically at this point, it’s kind of a waiting game until the monsoons come in and we get precipitation on the fire.”
Fire officials are not planning to use burnouts unless fire activity increases.
“We’d like to not have to put more fire on the ground,” Summerfield said. “With the hotter, drier weather, should it make a run somewhere, then we would need to do some burning out. But we’re hoping not to.”
The monsoons, which usually start in mid-July, offer the best hope to extinguish the blaze, though it’s not guaranteed the rains will do it.
“It’s going to take significant, extended precipitation to completely put out the fire,” Summerfield said. “Normally that’s the kind of precipitation you get during monsoons. What will come this year, nobody knows for sure. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.