The wind shifted Thursday – blowing from the southwest to the northeast – and brought cold ash and smoke from the Burro Fire into Telluride.
The ash and smoke grew progressively worse through the day, said Susan Lilly, public information officer for the Telluride Fire Protection District.
The ash did not pose a risk for new fire starts, she said. Fire officials from TFPD reported the ash was coming from 32 miles away, too far a distance to pose a threat, she said.
“I was on a lower-elevation hike until 11:30 (a.m.), and it was hazy and you could smell it, but it wasn’t too bad, but it got progressively worse through the afternoon,” she said. Later in the day, around 3 p.m., she said the smoke and the ash were noticeably worse.
A number of people in Telluride complained about irritated eyes, she said. Officials recommended people with chronic lung problems stay inside with windows closed.
“We have two dispatch centers, and phones were ringing off the hook today,” Lilly said.
Fire officials expect a smoky day Friday in Silverton.
Persistent hot, dry weather allowed the Burro Fire to pick up this week. The fire, mapped at 3,836 acres and 40 percent containment Thursday morning, is between Dolores and Rico, west of the 416 Fire.
On Thursday, the 416 Fire north of Durango was active along the west flank in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness, in the Deer Creek and Elk Creek area. The large smoke column visible from Durango was coming up from the wilderness.
The area was being monitored by air resources.
An increase in visible smoke along U.S. Highway 550 came from the switch in wind and not from increased fire activity, according to the Thursday night news release issued by the National Incident Management Organization overseeing the 416 Fire.
On Thursday, crews improved and strengthened a fire line north of Wednesday’s burnout operation along Forest Service Road 171. Helicopters dropped water along the line, and air tankers used retardant to cool 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 Thursday.
Burnouts played a role in the fire’s increase in size, which was at 37,488 acres and was 37 percent contained. According to NIMO officials, $27 million has been spent so far to fight the 416 Fire. The cause is still under investigation.
A fire weather watch has been issued for Friday because of continued hot, dry conditions.
Also on Thursday, crews worked on fire mitigation around the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge tracks to reduce the potential for future ignitions.
The D&SNG announced Wednesday it would delay the date for resuming use of its coal-fired steam engines until at least July 12.