Weather has re-emerged as a key ally for the 416 Fire with firefighters battling not only the blaze but temperatures that reached the mid-90s Wednesday, and the situation is not expected to improve Thursday.
In addition, Wednesday’s relative humidity was in the single digits.
The combination of weather factors allowed the blaze to expand north into steep, inaccessible terrain in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness, according to a news release issued Wednesday night by the National Incident Management Organization team now managing the fire.
On the west side of the fire, ground and aerial burnouts were used to remove fuels from the hand line to the fire’s edge. The burnouts secured portions of the fire line along Junction Creek Road.
Fire officials didn’t expect much nighttime relief with relative humidity remaining in single digits and lows going down only to the 50s, according to the NIMO news release.
A red-flag warning was issued from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday and again from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday. A red-flag warning means high temperatures, low humidity and winds will combine to create high fire danger with a good possibility for rapid fire growth.
The National Weather Service expects the weather to reach the mid-90s again Thursday.
Much of the visible smoke Wednesday came from burnout operations on the southwestern perimeter. Firefighters are using Junction Creek Road on the western perimeter as a fire line. Crews also planned burnout operations near a hand line south of Buck Creek.
Heavy smoke was apparent Wednesday morning in Durango and the Animas Valley, and fire officials warn smoke could reach Silverton as winds spread in a northeastern direction.
Burnout operations were supported by helicopters that were used to make strategic water drops. Three helicopters, with water taken from Falls Creek Lake, assisted in cooling the fire line.
The burnout allowed firefighters to connect a hand line to Junction Creek Road, which was the day’s objective.
Fire officials expect more burnout operations and more smoke will be visible in the next few days.
San Juan Basin Public Health has set up two monitors that show real-time smoke hazard levels.
Crews are still helping homeowners with removal and reduction of vegetation piles created during initial fire suppression efforts along U.S. Highway 550 north of Honeyville.
The San Juan National Forest has begun efforts to restore areas within the burn area that are safe to enter. Crews are actively working on repairing areas damaged during suppression activities. Mitigation efforts include seeding, installing water bars and restoring clearings and drainage ditches.
An additional team is being assembled to identify post-wildfire threats to human life, property and natural resources. The team will perform an assessment of the effects from the fire and identify areas of high risk before addressing them.
This team will not address long-term restoration and recovery needs. The San Juan National Forest will address those needs – including trail repair, weed treatment and reforestation – once the fire is out.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad delayed its planned resumption of coal-fired steam engines until July 12. The railroad had originally planned to resume runs to Silverton on July 4 but decided to delay resumption because of predicted weather patterns. The train will continue to offer shorter trips using a diesel engine.
The train will use the additional time to complete repairs to tracks in the fire-impacted area and complete a full inspection of the rails.
D&SNG will continue to monitor mitigating factors in the coming days and could delay when it will resumes service if favorable weather patterns do not emerge.
The 416 Fire was listed at 36,000 acres and 37 percent contained, according to the NIMO team’s Wednesday night update. On Wednesday, 351 firefighters were battling the blaze. The cost of fighting the fire was listed at $24.1 million.
The Burro Fire, which is burning west of the 416 Fire, was listed at 3,289 acres and is 40 percent contained. The cost to battle the Burro Fire was listed at $2.6 million Wednesday night.