Firefighters battled warm and dry weather conditions Monday as the 416 fire grew to 2,933 acres by late Monday.
The fire, which remains at 10 percent containment, was active until about 2 a.m. Tuesday, especially on the south flank near the Hermosa area, said Neal Kephart, a spokesman for the Type II management team battling the fire.
Crews will spend Tuesday battling the southern end of the fire, Kephart said. They have been forming construction lines in the area and have begun using wood chippers to reduce fuels and vegetation around structures in the area, he said.
“They’ve started construction in that area to stay ahead of it should it get that far,” Kephart said.
Firefighters will continue to defend the U.S. Highway 550 corridor and structures on the east side of the highway, Kephart said.
Crews expect extremely dry conditions the next few days. On Tuesday, temperatures are expected to be in the 80s and afternoon humidity is expected to be in the single digits, leading to extremely dry conditions, Kephart said. Gusts from the southwest could reach 20 mph, he said.
“The lower humidity and higher temperatures are going to lead to more active fire in the next few days,” Kephart said.
The northwest part of the fire continues to pose problems for crews due to the steep and rocky terrain, Kephart said.
“They’re continually assessing that and making plans,” Kephart said. “It’s an area of concern because of the difficult terrain up there. They’re going to scout that, look for areas to take advantage, especially with natural barriers and things that may help to slow the spread of it that way.”
Six helicopters, two fixed-wing planes and a National Guard helicopter will assist the 416 firefighters assigned to the blaze, he said.
There will be two community briefings Tuesday night to update residents about the fire and firefighting efforts. The first meeting will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Animas Valley Elementary School, 373 Hermosa Meadows Road. The second will be at 7 p.m. at La Plata County Fairground Exhibit Hall, 2500 Main Ave., in Durango.
Highway 550 will be open until 6 p.m. Tuesday with limited access. Law enforcement will escort drivers through the closure area; residents will not be allowed to exit the highway and return to their homes. The highway is subject to closure depending on weather conditions. The highway was shut down around 2 p.m. Monday due to the amount of smoke in the area.
“If activity along Highway 550 increases and there’s fire traffic in that area, it may be necessary to close for a certain time period again,” Kephart said. Those conditions are fluid.
Evacuation orders for 825 homes and pre-evacuation notices for 1,021 homes remain in effect.
Despite the dry conditions Kephart said firefighting crews remain determined to fight the fire.
“We have pretty much everything that we need,” he said. “Right now the attitudes remain really high and encouraging. People want to get out there and get the job done.”