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416 Fire declared 100 percent contained; interior still smolders

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018 10:17 PM
The 416 Fire was declared 100 percent contained Tuesday, right on schedule with a July 31 containment estimate made in mid-June. Hot spots continue to burn in the 54,129-acre burn area, but the fire poses no threat of expanding, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Recent rainfall has given fire officials the confidence to declare the 416 Fire 100 percent contained as of 3 p.m. Tuesday – on schedule with a projected containment date.

Firefighters created a containment line around 50 percent of the blaze while the remainder of the fire perimeter was allowed to burn into the rugged wilderness. But officials said Tuesday the 61-day-old blaze won’t spread beyond its northwest perimeter, where no containment line was built.

“Because of the recent moisture, we are confident that it will stay in its containment lines,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

The containment date aligns with a goal set in mid-June by the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Type 1 team, which estimated the blaze would be completely contained by July 31.

Near the northwestern perimeter of the fire, where firefighters hadn’t successfully installed a containment line, the fire burned into aspen trees, where the higher elevation and scattered rains helped keep the fire cold along the perimeter, Fitzgerald said.

“The fire just sort of stalled and quit burning,” she said. “There’s no hot spots near the perimeter, which is why we feel confident that it won’t go outside the containment lines. It doesn’t have anywhere to go.”

The San Juan National Forest has maintained control of the fire since July 10. The fire is mostly extinguished, but scattered hot spots continue to smolder.

“They (hot spots) can be way underground in these rotted out roots, and it’ll pop up and there will be a little flare-up, but it’s very minimal,” Fitzgerald said.

Recent moisture hit parts of the burn area, but it wasn’t consistent or widespread enough to successfully douse every hot spot. The Hermosa Creek drainage has received little moisture so far during the monsoon.

The fire won’t be put out until a “season-ending event” occurs, such as two days of rain or snow.

“It’s not looking like it’ll happen in the next three weeks,” Fitzgerald said. “But that’s all dependent on the weather. It could be quite a while, but it just depends.”

A total of 21 personnel, led by incident commander Jason Hutchinson, are doing post-fire suppression and patrols in the area. Overnight flights to map the fire have stopped.

The closure order for the San Juan National Forest around the burn area remains in effect because of hot spots and flooding concerns.

The fire started June 1 and grew to 54,129 acres. Severe fire conditions this spring and summer lead to Stage 3 fire restrictions and a shutdown of the San Juan National Forest. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad suspended service for 41 days, and businesses in Durango and Silverton have been severely affected by the lack of tourism caused by the fire and thick smoke that blanketed the area.

The investigation into the cause of the fire will likely be released in late fall or early winter, Fitzgerald said. The Colorado State Attorney General must review the investigation before it is released, she said.

The Burro Fire to the west of the 416 Fire is also 100 percent contained. It is much closer to being declared 100 percent extinguished, Fitzgerald said. The closure area in effect around the Burro Fire has been reduced.

“They got a lot more rain than we did,” Fitzgerald said.

asemadeni@durangoherald.com

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