The 416 Fire worked its way to North Buck Creek and the Buck Creek drainage on Sunday and grew to 16,766 acres, almost doubling in size in a 24-hour period.
On Sunday evening, fire officials said the fire was acting as predicted and burning actively and intensely with wind gusts of up to 35 to 40 mph on ridges. The fire’s southwest flank has now moved into North Buck Creek and the Buck Creek drainage. It continues to progress through Hermosa Creek drainage.
The fire is moving through the two drainages at a moderate rate of spread, fire officials said. Multiple aircraft on Sunday evening were actively dropping water and retardant.
The fire is about a quarter of a mile from the nearest house, and fire officials said structure protection is in place.
Sunday morning started off with more evacuations. An order was issued to 675 residences at 9:45 a.m., including Purgatory/Durango Mountain Resort, Lake Purgatory, Silver Pick Lodge, Cascade Village, Mill Creek and all residences on both sides of U.S. Highway 550 between mile markers 46.5 to 53.1.
The active fire behavior also closed Highway 550 from Cometti/Mead Lane in Hermosa to the top of Molas Pass (between mile markers 32 and 64). According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the highway is closed indefinitely.
Large smoke columns visible Sunday from Durango came as fire behavior intensified near the Lower Hermosa Campground and burned conifer stands. The fire in this area is behaving as predicted, according to fire authorities.
Aircraft are monitoring the fire’s west flank.
On the north side, crews have nearly completed a line around the entire Purgatory Resort. The line wraps around the back of the resort to Forest Service Road 578 and into the top parking lot. The line will tie into Highway 550.
Dozer lines are in place along the neighborhoods along the Highway 550 corridor. Fire behavior has been mostly inactive here, and firefighters continue to patrol and mop up these areas. They will continue checking on structures where they have already completed burning operations. The fire has not crossed Highway 550.
The 416 Fire grew significantly on the west and northwest sides on Sunday. The rugged area in the San Juan National Forest is not near residential areas. No structures have been lost.
As of Sunday afternoon, Megan Graham, spokeswoman with La Plata County, said the total number of evacuations stands at 2,156, and 373 homes and businesses are under pre-evacuation notice.
On Sunday, seven helicopters helped the 813 firefighters battling the fire. Officials are preparing to battle the blaze for a long time, said Shawn Bawden, a fire information officer.
“This is a long-duration event,” he said. “Firefighters will be here as long as it takes to get the job done.”
Kelsey Griffee, public information officer for the 416 Fire, said fire officials on Sunday evening do not think it is likely that the 416 Fire will merge with the Burro Fire, which is burning 10 miles to the west near Dolores.
The Type I team managing the 416 Fire will also assume command of the Burro Fire at 6 a.m. Monday and a separate camp will be set up for management of the Burro Fire.
Additional resources are headed to battle the two fires, but on Sunday night, Griffee didn’t have details.
Monday is expected to be dry again, but wind speeds should decrease. Winds will be calm in the morning until around 10:30 a.m., and will increase to 10 to 15 mph from the west/southwest in the afternoon. Occasional gusts may reach 25 mph after 1:30 p.m. Temperatures will be in the high 70s to low 80s and relative humidity will drop into the low single digits.
A red flag warning was in place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. The combination of weather and fuel conditions created the potential for significant fire intensity and growth.
Fire officials expect smoke will be heavy and low in the Animas Valley, and visibility will be restricted Monday morning.
As the weather persists, La Plata County commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to consider enacting Stage 3 fire restrictions. Stage 3 restrictions would result in a closure of the San Juan National Forest, said Kara Chadwick, San Juan National Forest supervisor. It could also ban certain activities in unincorporated parts of the county.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a dense smoke advisory for Southwest Colorado from 9 p.m. Sunday through noon Monday. Smoke is expected to be heaviest in the U.S. Highway 550 corridor from Molas Pass through Durango and down to the New Mexico line, as well as the U.S. Highway 160 corridor between Hesperus and Bayfield, extending east past Pagosa Springs. Visibility is expected to be a quarter mile or less.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also issued an air quality health advisory because of wildfire smoke for a large portion of Southwest Colorado. The advisory was issued for La Plata County, San Juan County, northeastern Montezuma County and eastern Dolores County. The advisory is in effect until 9 a.m. Monday. When moderate to heavy smoke is present, residents should consider limiting physical exertion and time outside, according to San Juan Basin Public Health advisories. If visibility is less than 5 miles, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthful.