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Backfires used to choke 416 Fire of fuels

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Monday, June 4, 2018 10:18 PM
The 416 Fire actively burns Monday on the west of U.S. Highway. About 825 homes have been evacuated since Friday, partly as a safety precaution in case a spot fire leaps the highway and threatens homes on the east side.

PURGATORY – There’s an old saying: “Fight fire with fire.”

That’s what firefighters did Monday on the 416 Fire.

They used drip torches to set their own fires, called “backfires,” in an effort to reduce vegetation ahead of the 4-day-old wildfire burning 10 miles north of Durango, thereby depriving it of fuel as it chews through the San Juan National Forest.

Hot and dry conditions made for active fire behavior Monday on the 416 Fire, and with little change in the forecast, more of the same is expected in coming days.

“The conditions we have right now are going to lead to this being an active fire for the next several days,” said Shawn Bawden, spokesman for the Type II management team.

Firefighters had no update as of 9 p.m. Monday for the size or containment of the fire, which was reported Monday morning to be 2,402 acres and 10 percent contained.

The wildfire north of Durango has prompted the evacuation of 825 homes and pre-evacuation notices to be issued for another 1,021 homes.

The fire was most active Monday along its southern edge at the top of Hermosa Creek Drainage, where spot fires grew to about a quarter acre in size but were extinguished using helicopters, Bawden said.

U.S. Highway 550 was supposed to be open to limited through traffic from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, but the road closed about 2:20 p.m. between mile markers 35.5 (north of Honeyville) and 43.5 (near Electra Lake) as a result of heavy smoke that limited visibility.

“The winds have shifted and there’s just a ton of smoke on the highway, so they have decided for safety reasons to just go ahead and close it for the day,” Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said Monday afternoon.

The highway is scheduled to reopen from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday; however, times could change or the road could close at any moment based on fire conditions. Drivers are escorted through the closure area by law enforcement; residents are not allowed to exit the highway and return home.

Several roads and trails in and around Hermosa Creek Watershed are closed to the public.

The 416 Fire fire started about 10 a.m. Friday north of Durango.


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Federal firefighters have not identified a cause of the fire, listing it as “unknown.” As of Monday night, Graham said she didn’t have any information about status of the investigation.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has suspended all coal-fired steam passenger service through at least June 10 “to ensure guest and employee safety during the containment of the 416 Fire.” The D&SNG plans to launch a diesel locomotive passenger service later in June once it has been deemed safe to do so.

Weather is expected to be hot and dry this week, with highs in the mid-80s in Durango.

Three community meetings have been scheduled to brief residents about the fire and firefighting efforts.

The first will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, at Animas Valley Elementary School, 373 Hermosa Meadows Road near Hermosa. The second will be at 7 p.m. at La Plata County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, 2500 Main Ave., in Durango. The third will occur at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at Silverton Town Hall, 1360 Greene St.

Evacuations and pre-evacuations remain in place until further notice by officials. La Plata County government officials said evacuations are required to allow for safe and effective fire operations.

The Durango evacuation center at Escalante Middle School expanded its hours and now has 24-hour capacity, including showers and food for evacuees.

Monday night, crews will patrol the burn area and monitor the fire. More burnouts are possible, Bawden said.

Officials describe their efforts on the 416 Fire a “full-suppression fire.

“We’re not letting it burn,” Bawden said. “We are fully suppressing this fire with all resources.”

The number of firefighters is now 416, with more expected to arrive in coming days.

Bawden said the fire has the necessary resources and is not competing for resources with other fires.

rsimonovich@durangoherald.com

To help

If you’d like to help, Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado is accepting monetary donations for Community Emergency Relief Fund. Call (970)375-5807.

Gallery: The 416 Fire grew 147 acres on Monday

A hawk soars over the 416 Fire burn area on Monday west of U.S. Highway 550. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The 416 Fire burns Monday on the west side of U.S. Highway 550, across from the Glacier Club and Tamarron area. Residents have not been allowed back to their homes. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Tony Jakino, a firefighter with the Montrose Fire Protection District, charges a fire hose line while on structure protection duty on Monday as the 416 Fire burns just above him near U.S. Highway 550. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The north end of the 416 Fire flares up on Monday afternoon. The fire grew 147 acres in the last 24 hours. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
A hand crew makes its way up to the 416 Fire on Monday along U.S. Highway 550. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
A tree goes up in flames on Monday in the 416 Fire burn area west of U.S. Highway 550. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Fire crews monitor the 416 Fire on Monday along U.S. Highway 550 that is burning on the west side. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Law enforcement escorts a group of drivers down U.S. Highway 550 as the 416 Fire burns on Monday west of the highway. Escorts for through traffic were canceled midday because of heavy smoke on the highway. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Monty Bollock, facilities unit leader with the Blue Team, talks on Monday about setting up Fire Camp for all support personnel working on the 416 Fire. According to officials, 416 people are involved in fighting and managing the fire. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The Blue Team Fire Camp is set up in the two lower parking lots of Purgatory Resort. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Deon Steinle, a division supervisor with the Blue Team, keeps track of fire crews and helps monitor the 416 Fire on Monday along U.S. Highway 550. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Dave Williams, a contractor for the Blue Team, is set up on Monday in Fire Camp to print maps and make copies for personnel who are fighting the 416 Fire. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Sprinklers run on the Glacier Club golf course on Monday as employees try to keep things green and wet with the 416 Fire burning nearby. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
An ash devil rises up to a cloud on Monday in the 416 Fire burn area. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The ground is covered with fire retardant on Monday in an area where the 416 Fire is burning. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
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