Growth slows on 416 Fire; storms expected to help this weekend

Thursday, July 5, 2018 10:06 PM
Helibase personnel on the 416 Fire stay busy, even as fire behavior slows. The team completed a mock medical drill Wednesday.

Expansion of the 416 Fire slowed with decreased fire activity Thursday after the blaze grew only 869 acres on the Fourth of July.

As of Thursday, the 416 Fire was at 45 percent containment, which represents 90 percent of firefighters’ containment objective.

To achieve their 416 Fire containment objective, firefighters must protect structures and ensure public safety with fire lines. 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 the containment objective were Hermosa, the U.S. Highway 550 corridor and the southwest perimeter near Falls Creek Ranch subdivision.

Firefighters monitored an area of concern Thursday near Olga Little Mountain. The fire was holding on a rock field, but rocks pose a challenge. Fire burns vegetation 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.

The fire could be cooled by rain Friday, as heavy rain over the burn area is possible. The National Weather Service has issued a flash-flood warning for northwest La Plata County from Friday afternoon to Friday evening.

Favorable weather also slowed the Burro Fire’s growth with 23 percent humidity reported on the Fourth of July and high humidity and a chance of rain expected to linger through the weekend. On Thursday, the Burro Fire was listed at 4,593 acres and at 40 percent containment.

Crews working the 416 Fire on Thursday removed pumps, engines and hoses from the Electra Lake area. This has already been done in the Purgatory area.

Suppression repair of the burn area is underway, Correll said. It includes multiple techniques to start mitigating the fire’s impact on the landscape. One technique uses a chipper to grind fallen trees and brush and wood chips are spread on the fire line. Another practice is to dig water bars to divert water away from the burned area to prevent flooding.

A chance of rain and thunderstorms are in the forecast through the weekend, according the NWS. If the forecast holds, it would help curb fire activity. Rain would be helpful, but the extent the precipitation would lessen the intensity of the blaze is unknown.

One concern is that muddy roads could inhibit firefighters’ ability to access certain fire areas, Correll said. Still, cooler temperatures at night will be a benefit.

San Juan Basin Public Health advised that heavy smoke could impact areas of La Plata and Montezuma counties Friday. Real-time air-quality levels can be viewed at PurpleAir.

On Thursday, 432 personnel were working the 416 Fire, and the total cost to battle it is at $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.