Rapid expansion of the 416 Fire slowed over the Fourth of July holiday, growing only 869 acres on Wednesday, with decreased fire activity expected Thursday.
The 54,128-acre fire was 45 percent contained as of Thursday morning, which represents 90 percent of firefighters’ containment objective. To achieve containment objective, firefighters must protect structures and ensure public safety; once those lines are built, the fire can safely burn into the wilderness, said Justin Correll, spokesman for the National Incident Management Organization in charge of the fire.
The main areas of focus to achieve containment objective were Hermosa, the U.S. Highway 550 corridor and the southwest perimeter near Falls Creek Ranch subdivision.
Firefighters were monitoring one area of concern Thursday near Olga Little Mountain. The fire was holding on a rock field, but the rocks also pose a challenge to firefighters. Fire burns vegetation that’s lodged between rocks, Correll said, so to mop up the area, firefighters must get under the rocks.
Once the area is cooled off, 100 percent of the containment objective will be met. At that point, the focus will shift to removing equipment from the fire line and repairing burn areas.
Crews on Thursday planned to remove pumps, engines and hoses from the Electra Lake area. This has already been done in the Purgatory area.
Suppression repair of the burn area includes multiple techniques to start mitigating the fire’s impact on the landscape. One technique is using a chipper to grind fallen trees and brush and spread the wood chips on the fire line, Correll said. Another is to dig water bars to divert water away from the burned area to prevent flooding.
Rain and thunderstorms are expected to start Thursday, which will provide a break in fire activity. There is a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Thursday evening and a 40 percent chance Friday afternoon. Possible precipitation is expected throughout the weekend, according the National Weather Service.
Rain is certainly helpful, but it is unknown to what extend it will curb the blaze.
One concern is that muddy roads could inhibit firefighters’ ability to access certain areas of the fire, Correll said. Cooler temperatures at night are a benefit.
San Juan Basin Public Health advised that heavy smoke could impact areas of La Plata and Montezuma counties Thursday and Friday. Real-time air-quality levels can be viewed at PurpleAir.
Currently, there are 432 personnel working the 416 Fire, and the total cost is $28.9 million.
While the fire is slowing, it will hang around for a while.
“We’re looking to possibly be having ‘smokes’ pop up here and there up until our first snowfall,” Correll said.