UPDATE – 6:50 p.m.La Plata County government issued an afternoon news release with these updates:
More than 20 aircraft and 384 firefighters were assigned to the 416 Fire as of Monday.
All evacuation and pre-evacuation orders issued Friday remain in effect as well as the pre-evacuation issued Sunday for additional homes and businesses in north Hermosa.
An evacuation center at Escalante Middle School, 141 Baker Lane, will have 24-hour shelter capacity with arrangements for food and showers.
At about 2:30 p.m., shifting wind and heavy smoke prompted the full re-closure of U.S. Highway 550 between mileposts 35.5 and 43.5. The highway will remain closed overnight. The highway is scheduled to reopen from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, but that is subject to change at any moment depending on the potential for rapidly changing fire behavior.
The Rocky Mountain Type II Incident Management Team has scheduled three community meetings for Durango and Silverton.
The first will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Animas Valley Elementary School, 373 Hermosa Meadows Road in Hermosa. The second meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, 2500 Main Ave., in Durango. A third meeting will occur at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Silverton Town Hall, 1360 Greene St.
Each of the meetings will have public health representatives available to answer questions, La Plata County CodeRED emergency alert registration available and registration for credentials available for evacuees.
Residents from Bakers Bridge at County Road 250 north to Electra Lake Road are under mandatory evacuation orders. This affects about 825 homes. County Road 250 north from Bakers Bridge is open to local traffic only in both directions.
Pre-evacuation notices are in place for residents from the north Hermosa area on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 to the intersection with County Road 250. In addition, residents and businesses from Electra Lake Road north to Meadow View Drive are under pre-evacuation notice. This includes Purgatory, Durango Mountain Resort, Cascade Village, Celadon, Red Tail Mountain Ranch, Elkhorn Mountain, Pine Acres and Animas Village neighborhoods and subdivisions. This affects about 1,021 residential and commercial structures.
Some residents have questioned whether evacuations are necessary. County officials said evacuations remain in place to allow for safe and effective fire operations. They cited several reasons for keeping evacuations in place, including:
Reduced visibility requires keeping roadways closed for hundreds of personnel to safely operate and rapidly respond to changing fire needs. Minimizing hazards and enhancing access is essential to maintain the high pace of work in a dangerous working environment.Air operations are similarly dangerous. With more than 20 aircraft operating on the fire, it is imperative for safety to minimize ground hazards. Wildland fire conditions change extremely rapidly. Keeping residents out of harm’s way until hazards can be resolved is essential to allow responders and resources to focus on containment and mitigation of fire hazards.The Red Cross shelter is open 24 hours per day with residential credentialing available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday.
County officials thanked residents for their support of firefighters but said all food and equipment needs are met at this time, and the interagency effort cannot accept additional donations.
Financial donations can be made by calling the Community Foundation serving Southwest Colorado at (970) 375-5807, in the name of the Community Emergency Relief Fund or to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at www.wffoundation.org.
UPDATE - 4:45 p.m. Fire officials will host community meetings on Tuesday in Durango and Hermosa.
The first meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Animas Valley Elementary, 373 Hermosa Road. (Personalized briefings will be available at 4:30 p.m.)
The second meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave., in Durango. (Personalized briefings will be available at 6:30 p.m.)
UPDATE – 2:25 p.m.U.S. Highway 550 is closed through the 416 Fire area north of Durango.
“The winds have shifted and there’s just a ton of smoke on the highway, so they have decided for safety reasons to just go ahead and close it for the day,” said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County.
The highway was first closed at 1 p.m. Friday, but reopened to limited through traffic on Sunday and Monday. The highway was scheduled to be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, but was closed about 2:20 p.m. Monday because of heavy smoke.
The closure is between mile markers 34 and 48, which is right about Honeyville to just south of Purgatory Resort.
The 416 Fire grew by 147 acres to 2,402 acres in size and remained at 10 percent contained Monday morning.
Firefighters planned to focus on protecting homes on the southern edge of the fire Monday in the Hermosa area.
“We’re trying to be really proactive down there,” said Vickie Russo, spokeswoman for the Type II management team. “That’s why they’re on pre-evacuation.”
Firefighters will try to dig containment lines by hand or by machine. There are also structure crews working on fuels mitigation such as clearing brush and flammable materials from around homes.
Helicopters will be dumping water on the east side of the fire along U.S. Highway 550.
The fire is burning in steep, rugged country. Firefighters must hike sometimes two hours to reach areas where they need to work, Russo said.
U.S. Highway 550 is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday for through traffic only. Residents who have been evacuated from their homes won’t be allowed to return home. Law enforcement will escort drivers through the closed area from mile markers 35.5 to 43.5.
Evacuations and pre-evacuations remained in place Monday. About 825 homes are evacuated, and 1,021 homes are on pre-evacuation notice.
Firefighters received a little help Sunday from Mother Nature in the form of light rain and cool temperatures. But fire officials said the rain had little impact on extinguishing the blaze.
Any reprieve firefighters received Sunday will be short-lived. The high temperature Monday is expected to reach 83 degrees in Durango, and temperatures will increase to the mid-80s for the rest of the week. No rain is in the forecast.