The latest on the 416 Fire:
6:35 p.m.The fire was 1,974 acres in size and 10 percent contained, according to a news release issued by La Plata County government.
“Wind and weather conditions on Saturday helped to limit physical growth of the fire, with 3-5 mph winds and gusts up to 10 mph,” the release said. “Ground crews worked to keep the fire on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 and air resources attacked the fire throughout the day. Air and ground crews will work as late into the evening as is safe and functional and the team will patrol the fire throughout the evening.”
Evacuations remain in place for about 825 homes. Another 760 homes remain on pre-evacuation notice.
Rocky Mountain Type II Incident Management Team Blue will assume command of the fire at 6 a.m. Sunday.
6:05 p.m.The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad 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.”
All guests will receive full, immediate and automatic ticket refunds, the trail said in a news release Saturday night.
“Passenger, employee and community safety is, and always has been, of paramount importance to the D&SNGRR, and it is our No. 1 priority throughout all aspects of the railroad’s business,” said John Harper, general manager of the railroad, in the release. “As a result, we strongly believe it is in the best interests of all parties concerned to suspend this service through at least Sunday, June 10. In the meantime, we are closely collaborating with all first-responders, and local, county, and state law enforcement and firefighting personnel, to provide any needed assistance in containing this fire. Additionally, we are proactively directing available resources and staff members to responding agencies as they continue fighting 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. The railroad also encouraged Durango-area visitors and impacted passengers to visit the depot for free museum and scheduled railyard tours.
5:30 p.m.Federal firefighters put on an air show Saturday above the 416 Fire, with more than 20 helicopters and air tankers working the 1,973-acre blaze burning on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 about 10 miles north of Durango.
The air assault was focused on the most dangerous sections of the fire, including along Highway 550, where firefighters were intent on keeping the blaze from crossing the road.
Three helicopters routinely dropped buckets of water all afternoon. The helicopters used Shalona Lake and other nearby water sources to fill buckets of water to drop on the fire across the highway. Each cycle took only a couple of minutes.
About 250 personnel were working the fire Saturday afternoon, said Jim Mackensen, spokesman for the Type III incident team assigned to the fire. Though a lot of the attacks were air assaults, a large number of local crews were assigned to structure protection on the east side of the highway.
Ed Rozycki, a volunteer firefighter for the Durango Fire Protection District, was one of the first to arrive on scene Friday morning. He battled the fire until 10 p.m. Friday, and returned by 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
Rozycki was assigned to a structure protection crew on the north end of the fire area. He spent his morning mitigating the area around DFPD Station 14 so crews could use the station as a water source. They then spent the majority of the afternoon scouting potentially hazardous locations in their area and reported the conditions to their supervisors.
“Staying abreast to information is the most important,” Rozycki said.
They also kept an eye on the east side of the highway for any potential spot fires that could break out. Five spot fires occurred on the east side of Highway 550 on Friday, but all were doused by local crews.
Greg Childress, volunteer coordinator for the DFPD, said local firefighting units were in good spirits Saturday.
“That’s where you get your reward,” he said. “We get paid with the intrinsic reward of going out there and making a difference and maybe helped save somebody’s house or make things better.
1:58 p.m.The fire is 1,973 acres and remains at zero percent containment.
Resources include four heavy tankers, one singe engine air tanker, one very large air tanker, two type 2 helicopters, two type 1 helicopters, 14 engines, seven firefighting crews, four hotshot crews, and one water tender.
U.S. Highway 550 remains closed. Both lanes on County Road 250 are open to local traffic only.
11:21 a.m.Firefighters are expected to have favorable weather conditions Saturday on the 416 Fire, which grew to 1,500 acres in size and was zero percent contained.
Firefighters planned to rely heavily on air support with an emphasis of keeping the fire on the west side of U.S. Highway 550, away from homes, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County.
No new evacuations or pre-evacuation notices have been issued for the fire, Graham said.
About 825 homes are evacuated and 760 more are on pre-evacuation notice.
Though the last official report estimated the fire to be 1,100 acres, the fire is bigger this morning, said Jim Mackensen, a spokesman for the Type III incident team. A flyover to map official acreage of the fire occurred at 10 a.m., but it can take a couple of hours before the information is compiled, he said.
A Type III federal interagency team took over command of the fire Friday evening and continued to fight the fire overnight. A Type II incident team is assembling and is expected to take over at 6 a.m. Sunday, Mackensen said.
A Type II team is able to summon greater resources and has a more robust command staff than a Type III team.
Three helicopters were dropping water on hot spots Saturday morning, Mackensen said.
“We’ve got a great team working to keep this fire from growing and threatening structures,” Graham said. “There is tons of air support.”
Mackensen said the plan Saturday is to continue protecting threatened structures and to prevent the fire from jumping Highway 550.
The fire started about 10 a.m. Friday 10 miles north of Durango on the west side of Highway 550. Most of the homes are on the east side of the highway. Though the winds are expected to be much lower than Friday, fuel levels remain a threat, Mackensen said.
“It’s likely we can loft embers at quite a distance,” he said. “It’s going to depend on what the winds do with it.”
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A lot of resources are being dictated to protecting homes on the east side of the highway that are at risk, he said. Durango Fire Protection District and other agencies are in the subdivisions to protect homes, he said.
Firefighters battling the 416 Fire on Saturday won’t have to deal with the gusts of wind they experienced Friday afternoon. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction said Durango should expect 5-10 mph winds from the southwest, as opposed to the 30 mph gusts of winds reported Friday.
“We had a little system that moved through yesterday (Friday), so that’s what kept the winds up,” said Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The Animas Valley was filled with smoke Saturday morning, but the haze should lift and stay out of town during the afternoon when winds change direction, Stackhouse said.
Conditions will continue to be hot and dry in the area with an expected high of 83 degrees. Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in place for La Plata County.
Stackhouse said there is a 30 percent chance of precipitation Sunday morning and a 40 to 50 percent Sunday afternoon.
“Sunday’s the best chance for anything in the future,” she said. “Hopefully by sunrise tomorrow, Durango will see some showers in the area. And hopefully the fire can see some rain as well.”
Highway 550 closed in both directions about 1 p.m. Friday, and there is no estimate for when it will be reopened, Graham said. Residents trying to go north to Silverton are encouraged to take Lizard Head Pass, a 177-mile detour.
County officials haven’t discussed letting people back into their homes to get belongings, Graham said.
La Plata County declared a “state of local disaster” Friday evening. The declaration means the county can access additional funds and resources that are out of the county’s payroll to cover cost of operations, Graham said. Graham did not have an initial cost estimate for fighting the fire.
“It costs a lot of money to fight fires and deal with drought,” Graham said. “It helps us access resources beyond what the county has.”
Stage 2 fire restrictions that were enacted Friday remain in place.
Graham urged residents not to fly drones in the area. At least one drone was seen flying near the south end of the fire on Friday.
“Stay out of the way of fire teams,” Graham said.
The county had no plans to hold a community briefing, Mackensen said. The Type II management team will likely hold a community briefing or news conference on Sunday, he said.
Graham said all evacuees should check in at one of the two centers. An evacuation center was set up at Escalante Middle School in Durango and a check-in center is setup at the Visitor’s Center in Silverton.
“Even if you have a place to stay, check in to an evacuation center and get your little card so when the evacuations are lifted we can get folks in there as easily as possible,” Graham said.