Firefighters pack it up as storms loom over 416 Fire

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 8:26 AM
The incident command post at Animas Valley Elementary School was demobilized Tuesday as control of the 416 Fire is passed to the San Juan National Forest. Ross Catron, left, David Kohler, center, and Colby Jackson process the tearing down of the command post.
Firefighting gear at the 416 Fire incident command post sits ready to move Tuesday at Animas Valley Elementary School.

The National Incident Management Organization team assigned to the 416 Fire closed its incident command post Tuesday at Animas Valley Elementary School.

The school has served as the command post for both the NIMO team and the Type I federal firefighting team since June 9.

“It’s pretty much packed up,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the San Juan National Forest. “The hoses have all been rolled up and taken back and the information boards are taken down. It’s pretty much closed at this point.”

Spotty rains over the weekend stifled fire activity, which prompted the NIMO team to hand over command to the San Juan National Forest, which assumed command of the fire at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Officials from the Forest Service will retain access to federal firefighting resources should they be needed, though officials aren’t anticipating their need.

“The fire’s pretty much smoldering away at this point,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s no active burning.”

The incident command post at Animas Valley Elementary School was demobilized Tuesday, with control of the 416 Fire being passed to the San Juan National Forest. The fire is 50 percent contained and will be allowed to smolder until rains or even snow fully extinguish hot spots.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Containment lines have been built along the south and east portions of the fire, protecting homes and highways. There are no active fire lines on the west and northwest section of the fire, where the fire expands toward the Hermosa Creek Wilderness. Though the fire is 50 percent contained, officials aren’t concerned about it expanding into the wilderness. High elevation and rocky ridges, as well as the rains that are forecast, should stifle active fire.

“We don’t have lines in place, so we can’t say it’s contained,” Fitzgerald said. “But we don’t expect the fire to go anywhere.”

There’s no incentive to directly attack the blaze in the uncontained areas, Fitzgerald said. The fire poses little threat to structures and isn’t expected to expand. Also, it would be extremely difficult for firefighters to create fire lines in the rugged terrain. Allowing the fire to burn could even help the forest against future wildland fires.

“It is burning up some fuels that will help the forest become more fire resistant in the future,” Fitzgerald said.

Although officials aren’t actively battling the blaze, they will monitor the fire for impacts. Overnight flights will be the primary method for checking the intensity of the fire, while ground crews mop up around containment lines and begin post-fire suppression rehabilitation.

Operations staff and firefighters on the 416 Fire signed a poster that hangs inside Animas Valley Elementary School thanking people for use of the school.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

A Burned Area Emergency Response team completed an assessment of the probability of precipitation impacts on burned areas. The 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.

The National Weather Service forecasts a 30 to 50 percent chance of precipitation Wednesday, with a chance of rain expected through the weekend. The rains aren’t the monsoon however, which is expected to occur later in the month.

A flash-flood watch has been issued from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of rain. Pre-evacuation notices have been issued for 317 residences in Tripp Creek, Dyke Canyon, Hermosa Circle and Falls Creek Ranch for fear of flash flooding.

“These rainstorms have been so spotty,” Fitzgerald said. “If it hits in the right place, there could be some concern. If not, then no. They’re just scattered thunderstorms so we don’t know.”

As of Tuesday, 178 people were assigned to the fire, though that number will likely decrease in coming days. The last out-of-town crews are expected to clock out on July 20, Fitzgerald said.

Officials have stopped posting updated information on the InciWeb page, and the 416 Fire page on Facebook was removed Monday evening. All public information will be posted on the San Juan National Forest Facebook page.