Fire officials working on the 416 Fire 13 miles north of Durango warn that an increase in temperatures and dry and hot conditions could create a higher chance of smoke dispersal along U.S. Highway 550 on Tuesday.
A forecast rise in daytime temperatures, decreased relative humidity and accompanying downslope winds could lead to an increase in fire activity, which could potentially impact communities along the highway corridor, according to a news release issued by the National Incident Management Team on Tuesday morning. The downslope winds will continue throughout the night, increasing smoke levels in the Durango area.
Heavy smoke was observed throughout large parts of La Plata County on Tuesday, particularly along the Animas River from the 416 Fire southward to the New Mexico state line, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. The smoke was expected to gradually decrease Tuesday morning. However, the smoke is expected to drain southward along the Animas River and produce moderate to heavy smoke Wednesday morning.
SJBPH has placed air quality monitors – one from its office in South Durango and one from North Durango – around the area to show the amount of particles in the air, which can cause respiratory problems. The monitors display real-time concentration of particulates, but SJBPH advises using the 24-hour average for health recommendations, the official health standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The fire, which started June 1, grew more than 200 acres Monday and is now 35,195 acres. It is 36 percent contained.
Crews spend Tuesday doing burnouts on the southwest perimeter of the fire along County Road 204 in an effort to secure and improve existing fire lines. Firefighters hope the offensive tactics will remove fuels in advance of the fire to control it. Crews plan to use County Road 204 as the primary fire line during operations.
Fire officials say the burnouts could increase the amount of smoke, particularly for residents in Falls Creek and Junction Creek. The smoke from these operations will initially move in an easterly direction, and could impact Hermosa, Honeyville, and rural parts of eastern La Plata County.
The burnouts will also be aided by aerial support. Three helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft will be joining the 459 firefighters assigned to the fire.
Crews will also continue improving existing fire lines along Highway 550 and help residents with fuel reduction near homes. Firefighters will continue to chip vegetation piles created during fire suppression activities during the initial onset of the incident and encourage the public to contact fire crews if vegetation piles have not been addressed and removed.