Thanks to Tropical Storm Bud, Durango has received a welcome reprieve from the thick smoke that settled in town most mornings since the 416 Fire broke out, but that could change later this week.
Down-valley winds have carried smoke from the 416 Fire most mornings since the fire started June 1.
The first air-quality health advisory was issued June 2 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and continued every day until Sunday.
At certain times of the day, air quality in Durango has been measured at “hazardous” levels, the poorest level on the air-quality index.
“Air quality in Durango and the Animas Valley has consistently shown daily fluctuations – worst around dawn and best in the mid- to late afternoon,” said Brian Devine with San Juan Basin Public Health.
During times of poor air quality, people in Durango were advised to stay inside and to avoid rigorous exertion outside. As a rule, if visibility is less than 5 miles, the air is considered unhealthy or hazardous.
The tropical storm off the Pacific Coast moved through Southwest Colorado on Saturday and Sunday and brought about an inch of moisture.
The rain stifled the intensity of the fire’s behavior, which was producing large columns of smoke. Also, in the past couple of days, firefighters have not conducted any burnout operations to contain the fire, which also has reduced smoke in the air.
“There just hasn’t been the fire activity and smoke we’ve seen the last few weeks, so the air quality has been much better,” said Jamie Knight, a spokeswoman for the 416 Fire.
But the reprieve may be short-lived.
The forecast for the rest of the week in Southwest Colorado calls for a return to hot and dry conditions, and that could kick up fire activity, said Matthew Aleska, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Aleska said prediction models for Wednesday night show winds may return to that down-valley pattern. If fire activity increases, people in Durango could wake up to the cover of smoke.
“It just depends how much smoke gets produced from that fire,” Aleska said.
A relatively new high-resolution map has been used to predict smoke levels and direction, Aleska said, by taking into account current fires, wind patterns and nuances in the atmosphere.
So far, the map has been pretty accurate, Aleska said.
“As of now, the model isn’t showing a thing over the next 24 hours,” he said. “But there’s a chance it could return to smoky conditions by Wednesday evening.”
Knight said Durango will likely have to endure smoke-filled mornings until the fire is completely extinguished, which fire officials said may not be until monsoons arrive.