The latest news about the 416 Fire:
12:27 p.m.U.S. Highway 550 has reopened for through traffic only. Drivers will be escorted through the closure zone. Evacuees will have no access to their homes unless they need emergency medication.
The highway is scheduled to be open until 6 p.m., but if could close at any time if weather and fire conditions change.
The United States Postal Service says the fire is affecting about 800 deliveries off Highway 550 north of Mead Lane. Mail cannot be delivered. That mail, including checks and presecriptions, is being held at the Durango Post Office, 222 W. Eighth St. You must have ID to pick up the mail
11 a.m.The 416 Fire grew to 5,103 acres with most of the expansion occurring on the southwest side of the blaze near the Hermosa Creek Drainage, prompting the evacuation of nearly 500 homes early Thursday.
The new evacuation orders were issued to 497 homes late Wednesday night, giving them until 6 a.m. Thursday morning to leave. The evacuations are for residences north from Cometti/Mead Lane to the intersection of County Road 250C and U.S. Highway 550. The evacuation also includes county roads 201, 202, the north end of 203 and adjacent neighborhoods.
Another pre-evacuation notice was issued for 751 residences from Mead/Cometti/Albrecht Lane south to Trimble Lane west from the Animas River to include Falls Creek Ranch, Hidden Meadows, Dalton Ranch north of Trimble Lane and Durango Regency.
In total, more than 1,000 homes are evacuated and more than 1,500 homes are on pre-evacuation.
Highway 550 is expected to be closed until about noon Thursday when evacuations are complete. After that, the highway will open in a limited way: drivers will be escorted by law enforcement through the corridor, but drivers will not be allowed to stop or drive down side roads through the corridor.
The fire remained at 10 percent contained.
Hot and dry weather conditions, mixed with winds and low humidity allowed the fire to spread quickly, mostly on the southwest side. The fire reached the Lower Hermosa Campground on Wednesday evening, said Vickie Russo, a spokeswoman for the Type II team managing the blaze.
“The priority today will be in the Hermosa area, which is on the south side,” Russo said. “That’s pretty much where we’re putting everyone, most of the crews. The fire is just getting too close for comfort to those structures and the residences.”
Residences were given notice Wednesday evening to evacuate Thursday morning, which allowed them time to prepare, Russo said.
“It is better to give people a window for evacuations instead of, “You need to leave right now because the fire is in your backyard,’” Russo said. “Our top concern is public safety and firefighter safety. Whatever we need to do to keep the firefighters safe, whatever we need to do to keep the public safe, we’re going to be proactive about.”
Spot fires continue to be a problem for firefighters. One spot fire grew to 10 acres Wednesday on the west side of Highway 550 and east of an existing fire line.
“It was really active yesterday (Wednesday). A lot of it is because of the warm, dry conditions and a lot of it was because of the wind. We’re still in those severe fire conditions right now and that’s what we’re up against. Conditions are not in our favor.”
Russo said the new evacuations will give firefighters better access to fight the fires.
There are 617 firefighters assigned to the blaze Thursday, with a majority of forces assigned to the southwest of the fire to protect homes in the Hermosa area. Crews will use sprinkler kits and will attempt to use hand crews and dozers to build containment lines to gain control of the fire.
“They’re doing a lot of what they did yesterday, they’re just ramping it up,” Russo said. “A lot of things have been done in preparation in case it comes down to protecting houses.”
Though the fire is growing mainly on the southwest side, the blaze is also expanding to the north, which prompted 34 homes to be placed on pre-evacuation notice Wednesday afternoon.
Firefighters will continue to battle against “severe fire weather,” Russo said. Temperatures will be in the high 80s and 10 to 15 mph winds, with gusts that could reach up to 30 mph. There will be a minimum humidity from 6 to 11 percent. Smoke from the fire should clear out of Durango around 2 p.m., Russo said.
Crews will have the aid of six helicopters fighting the blaze with water drops. Slurry drops aren’t as effective on this fire for a number of reasons, including airplane visibility, proximity to the ground, and the effect slurry has in fighting the fire.
“Being able to do those bucket drops right now is crucial because they can really pinpoint where they’re going to drop,” Russo said. “Also with the smoke in the air, visibility being a little bit lower, they can be at a lower elevation than the big tankers. If the big tankers can’t see the ground then they can’t drop. Because of the canopy cover and with how dry it is, slurry isn’t a good tool right now. It’s not penetrating the canopy of the trees to get to the ground, and if it does get to the ground, the way the conditions are, it’s not as effective. Water is much more effective right now. Right tool for the job is what we’re looking at right now.”