416 Fire does not grow; 50 percent contained

Sunday, July 8, 2018 8:54 PM
Afternoon thunderstorms have returned to Southwest Colorado, and that brings about the risk of flash floods and problems with debris flow in the 416 Fire burn scar. A flash-flood watch was in effect through Sunday evening.

Despite rain falling on portions of the 416 Fire burn scar on Sunday and a flash flood in effect for most of the day, no problems were reported Sunday evening from debris flows or flooding.

La Plata County has issued pre-evacuation notice for 317 residences in Tripp Creek, Dyke Canyon, Hermosa Circle and Falls Creek Ranch areas because of the chance of flash flooding and problems with debris flow from the 416 burn scar.

Ben Moyer, meteorologist with National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said chances for flash floods in the 416 Fire burn scar will remain problematic this monsoon season and for several more years until enough growth returns to hold the soil.

He added that the recent rains over Southwest Colorado are not yet truly a monsoonal pattern, as the recent storms came from the northeast and true monsoonal rains come from the south.

“Yes, we are grateful for the precipitation we have received. But we haven’t really had a direct, long-term tap into the tropics yet,” Moyer said.

He said monsoonal patterns have established themselves over southern New Mexico, and in the west, as far north as Las Vegas, Nevada, but they have not yet worked their way to Colorado.

The coming of monsoonal activity in Southwest Colorado varies from year to year and can start anywhere from late June to as late as August, Moyer said.

This year, he said monsoonal patterns are expected to emerge later this month.

The Burned Area Emergency Response team has completed an assessment of the probability of impacts from rain on burned areas in the 416 Fire. This report was provided to La Plata County and the U.S. Forest Service to assist in planning for emergency responses and long-term recovery of burned lands.

Monsoonal pattern or not, a good chance of rain remains in the forecast for Southwest Colorado through the week.

The weather service lists a 30 percent chance of rain Monday and Monday night, a 30 percent chance early Tuesday increasing to a 50 percent chance Tuesday afternoon, and a 40 percent chance Tuesday night. There’s a 40 percent chance of rain Wednesday.

Al Nash, a public information officer with the National Incident Management Organization team overseeing the 416 Fire, reported “a very quite fire activity day” on Sunday and said the blaze did not grow.

Justin Correll, another NIMO spokesman, said recent rains will keep fire growth negligible and resulting smoke also should be limited.

On Sunday, the fire had burned 54,129 acres and firefighters had met their objective to have 50 percent containment. The fire is being allowed to burn itself out on its western and northwestern perimeter.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation and to date has cost $30.4 million to battle.

Still, a few hot spots remain in the interior of the fire and those hot spots and associated smoke should persist until the snow falls, Correll said. The hot spots are on the fire’s western side in, or near, wilderness areas.

On Tuesday, the NIMO team will return management of the fire back to the San Juan National Forest. Correll said transitions are handled delicately to ensure all information about the fire is conveyed to new managers and to ensure things “don’t fall through the cracks.”

As in all past transitions, officials from the San Juan National Forest will shadow NIMO team members on Monday, the day before the transition, for a least one full shift to help ensure a smooth hand-off.

Officials from the San Juan National Forest can also request that additional firefighting resources remain in place to deal with the blaze, Correll said. “There’s definitely a thoughtful plan behind this that’s pretty comprehensive,” he said.

In the burn area, trails and roads that connect to the San Juan National Forest closure order area are being patrolled by law enforcement agencies. These closures are being re-evaluated daily because of the rain, but at the moment, they remain in place.

The last day Facebook and Inciweb will be updated with information from the 416 Fire will be Monday.