Despite the unfavorable weather conditions, fire crews battling the 416 Fire made a bit of progress on Wednesday.
Crews successfully completed a burnout operation along the hand line to Forest Road 171 (near Junction Creek Campground) south of Buck Creek Drainage on the southwest portion of the fire. The burnouts significantly reduced ground fuels in the area and will allow fire managers to safely mitigate future fire growth along the Junction Creek corridor.
The burnouts played a role in the increase of the fire, which is now at 37,488 acres and is 37 percent contained.
Crews will spend today improving and strengthening the existing fire line north of Wednesday’s burnout operation. Helicopters will drop water along the line and retardant aircraft will assist in cooling the fire’s edge in an effort to create another containment line.
“We’re going to be using a lot of aircraft today,” spokesman Steve Kliste said.
Fire officials are expecting to see an increase in fire activity in the north and northwest portion of the fire. Fire officials predict that the increase in fire behavior will cause a lot of smoke that will be visible from U.S. Highway 550.
Officials will again be facing adverse weather conditions, because a red flag warning for the fire area has been issued from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today because of an increase in daytime temperatures, strong southwest surface winds and a reduction of relative humidity. In addition to the red flag warning today, a fire weather watch has been issued for Friday because of continued hot and dry conditions over the next 24 to 36 hours.
Meteorologists are also expecting the wind direction to shift to from the southwest Thursday, which could push smoke to the northeast. Fire officials aren’t expecting the smoke to reach Silverton, but the town could see smoke from the fire on Friday.
Crews will also work along the railway to do fire mitigation around the tracks to reduce the potential for future ignitions along the rail corridor. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad announced Wednesday it would delay the schedule for resuming use of its coal-fired steam engines to at least July 12. The railroad had said it would start using steam engines July 4, but after looking at the long-rage weather forecast, it decided to push the date to allow the company to repair damaged tracks in the fire zone.
According to fire officials, $27 million has been spent so far to fight the fire.