Steep and rugged terrain made building containment lines difficult for crews fighting the 416 Fire 10 miles north of Durango on Sunday. And though rain was a welcome sight for everyone, it had no impact on the fire, according to authorities.
The blaze remained at 2,255 acres and 10 percent containment Sunday night. Almost 400 firefighters are working on the fire.
The fire advanced into the Hermosa Creek drainage, prompting a pre-evacuation notice for 261 homes and businesses in the north Hermosa area on the southwest side of the fire.
The pre-evacuation notice is for homes and businesses from Mead Lane, known locally as Cometti Lane, in Hermosa, north along county roads 201, 202 and 203. The pre-evacuation area extends north along the west side of U.S. Highway 550 to its intersection with County Road 250. This includes the Pine Acres and Whispering Pines developments.
The pre-evacuation notice issued Sunday is in addition to the 825 homes already evacuated and 760 homes under pre-evacuation.
“The fire went ahead and flopped over into the Hermosa Creek drainage, so we had to pull the crews and proceed with a different tactic,” said Shawna Hartman, a spokeswoman for the Type II incident management team that took over command of the fire Sunday morning.
The fire did get hit with some scattered storms, but it did not aid firefighting efforts, Hartman said. Only 0.04 inches were recorded near the northern perimeter. Despite the low precipitation numbers, humidity levels and cloud cover helped control the fire’s behavior.
“Even though we had the fire come across the ridge, fire behavior was moderate today,” Hartman said.
After a heavy air show on Saturday that included a combination of helicopters and air tankers, crews scaled back the air assault on Sunday to six helicopters.
“When it’s down in drainages, it’s a little harder for fixed wings to get into, and if it’s just single spots and hot spots, helicopters can deliver water right to the ground resources much more effectively,” Hartman said. “Right now, what is most effective in what we’re doing, with the fire behavior and the fuels that we’re dealing with, is helicopters.”
On Sunday morning, U.S. Highway 550, which has been closed since Friday afternoon, reopened for limited use. The highway will reopen again from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday for through traffic only. Law enforcement will escort drivers through the closed area from mile markers 35.5 to 43.5. The highway will remain open unless hazards present themselves, as was the case Sunday when the road was briefly closed because of a hazardous tree, Hartman said.
“Those kind of shutdowns will likely happen again, depending on conditions,” she said.
Despite the road opening, evacuees weren’t allowed to enter their homes, nor will they be able to do so today except to get emergency medicines. Hartman said she does not have a timetable for when evacuees will be able to return.
“Unfortunately, the fire is above the mountain and above those homes,” she said. “With the drought and the fuel opening, the potential for spotting is very, very high at this time. It’s still possible that the hot spots that remain on the fire’s edge along the corridor could jump the highway. With the weather we’re predicting for the next few days, we want to make sure we can hold that line before we allow residents back in.”
The main priority today will be to hold the south side of the ridge in Hermosa, Hartman said. Crews also plan to navigate the northern part of the fire, which presents steep and rocky conditions that are difficult to combat on foot. Scout teams are also scanning other potential locations for crews to work.
“They’re really still developing a plan,” Hartman said. “Our focus has really been on the 550 corridor and the Hermosa drainage. They’re still developing the rest of the fire’s plan of attack.”
Any rain the area received today will be short-lived, said Matthew Aleasa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“There’s no chance of precipitation whatsoever tomorrow,” Aleasa said. “Tomorrow through next week, it looks dry as a bone.”
Durango is predicted to reach 84 degrees on Monday and 8 to 12 mph winds with gusts up to 15 to 20 mph, he said.
“It’s going to get hotter and drier, and we’re going to see these trends pick back up and fire behavior similar to when the fire started,” Hartman said.
“Even though it will be hotter and drier, there will be very light winds, which is a positive.”
The San Juan National Forest Service is still investigating the cause of the fire, Hartman said.
Several residents have questioned how the 416 Fire received its name. Russo said it is named after the incident number created by dispatchers who received the initial call. The incident number was “000416,” he said.
“For whatever reasons, that’s the number of the fire, so that’s the name they went with,” said Vickie Russo, a spokeswoman for the Type II team.
Hartman said there has been extended discussion about holding a community meeting for Durango, Silverton and the Hermosa areas. No exact dates have been determined, but Hartman said a meeting would likely occur Tuesday or later in the week.