The 416 Fire hasn’t exhaled its last column of smoke yet, but steady rainfall Saturday did help tame the 16-day-old wildfire and allow firefighters to increase containment lines around the 34,161-acre blaze.
Another quiet day also allowed La Plata County officials to lift evacuation orders for 284 homes and two businesses in the Haviland Lake, Electra Lake and Lakewood Meadows subdivisions. Beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday, evacuated residents and businesses on both sides of U.S. Highway 550 from the Glacier Club to Needles can return to their homes and businesses.
Additionally, U.S. Highway 550 will reopen to all lanes of traffic at 8 a.m. Sunday with no law enforcement escorts or restrictions.
The light, sustained rain started about 2 a.m. Saturday in the burn area and produced about 0.05 inches within four hours, said Tom Renwick, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
By late morning, the storm had produced 0.4 inches on the south end of the fire, while the north end received 0.3 inches. More rain was expected late Saturday and early Sunday, with light showers Sunday afternoon.
In total, forecasters are calling for 0.8 inches of rain through Sunday evening, which is significant considering average rainfall for the month of June is 0.64 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
“This has been the best-case scenario, because the rains come very steady and light,” incident meteorologist Jeff Colton said about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. “It wasn’t all at once, it wasn’t heavy. As far as helping with the fire, this is the kind of rain we needed. We would have liked to have seen a little more, but it’s the perfect kind of rain.”
Fire officials had been concerned about the threat of floods that could occur, but the light rain allowed the soils to absorb the moisture. A flash-flood watch is in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Colton said. “There is still some potential for heavy rains. The lighter gentler rain doesn’t tend to dislodge things as fast. Things can still move around and we could still end up with debris flows, but at this point, we haven’t had any problems.”
The plan for Sunday is largely dependent on the outcome of the weather Saturday evening.
“We’re just going to have to reassess in the morning and go from there,” said spokesman Cameron Eck. “A lot of it is going to depend on what happens tonight with the weather.”
Though the warm conditions are expected to return Sunday afternoon, Colton estimates that it will be a while before the fire picks up.
“We got a lot of moisture on the ground at this point. By Monday, we’ll dry up fast, so that’s when I expect to see a little more smoke developing again,” Colton said.
The system was a result of Tropical Storm Bud and not the monsoons. The monsoons won’t arrive for two to three more weeks, Colton said.
No air resources were used Saturday as a result of the weather. The 416 Fire had 1,111 personnel assigned to it.
The Burro Fire recorded 0.2 inches of rain Saturday afternoon, with fire officials expecting more Saturday evening. Fire officials reported progress on bulldozing containment lines in the key northwestern and southwestern sectors of the fire.
The Burro Fire was at 3,751 acres as of Saturday afternoon, a growth of about 300 acres from Friday. It was moving northeast and southeast in mountainous, heavily timbered country at 9,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation. Containment remained at 10 percent.
Public information officers from the Type 1 team will be stationed around the Durango area on Sunday to give briefings to the public. They will be at Durango Joes by Rite Aid at 9:30 a.m., TrueValue at Trimble Crossing at 11:30 a.m., the evacuation cetner at Escalante Middle School at noon, and the Silverton post office at 2 p.m