A towering plume of smoke signaled another hot, windy day on the 416 Fire, which found pockets of thick, dry vegetation in remote locations of the San Juan National Forest.
The blaze was reported at 41,617 acres as of Friday night. That is an 18 percent growth rate since this time last week.
Most of the growth Friday occurred in the northwest perimeter of the Deer Creek drainage, which continues to pose problems for crews. The growth was mainly caused by 30 mph wind gusts from the southwest that pushed the fire northeast.
“On the north end, we had some significant movement of the fire,” spokesman Don Ferguson said. “It made a pretty good run and then sat down. When the fire’s moving like that, there’s not much you can do. Helicopters are pretty puny compared to that.”
Despite the increase in fire activity, fire officials say residents shouldn’t be alarmed. No residences were in immediate danger.
“It’s really what we expected and what we’re managing for,” Ferguson said. “There’s no heightened level of alarm. We want the public to be aware but not concerned. It’s just got forever to go up there.”
The active fire behavior has led to several air-quality advisories being issued this week by San Juan Basin Public Health. Heavy smoke has filled valley floors at night, which linger until mid-morning when temperatures climb and atmospheric mixing increases.
Health officials recommend limiting ourdoor activities, especially for individuals with respiratory illnesses or heart disease, the elderly, and children. If visibility is less than 5 miles, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.
The health department, in conjunction with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, have placed air-quality monitors in the area. The monitors can be viewed by visiting tinyurl.com/ybzk7frh.
Crews spent Friday attempting to build a containment line along the southwest portion of the fire using burnouts. Burnout operations will occur north along Forest Road 171 to where it meets with Sheep Head Basin. Hand lines and mop-up crews, assisted by aerial support, will also continue in that area. Burnouts give crews the best chance of reaching containment in that area.
“There’s no way to complete that fire line there with all the fuel,” Ferguson said. “It would just be a line, and if the wind turned around, that line would be absolutely ineffective.”
Ferguson estimated that a third of the fire’s growth on Friday was caused by burnouts.
The fire put up large plumes that were visible Thursday and Friday from Durango. Fire officials received numerous reports of ash falling along U.S. Highway 550.
Fire officials plan to continue monitoring the fire’s spread in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness until a steady bout of rain can put out the fire, Ferguson said. Crews aren’t particularly worried that the fire will pose a threat to structures, saying there are many natural barriers, including cliffs, rocks and unvegetated areas between the fire and residences.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction issued a red-flag warning on Friday and issued a dense smoke advisory from 10 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday as smoke is expected to settle overnight in the Animas Valley. Montezuma County should also expect air-quality impacts from the Burro Fire, which is burning west of the 416 Fire.
To date, the fire, which started June 1, is 37 percent contained. About 360 people are working the fire. The cost so far is $25.6 million.
Staffers with the National Incident Management Organization will make themselves available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to talk to the public about the fire. They will be at Dunn Deal Resale Store, 3101 Main Ave., and south City Market, 6 Town Plaza during those times.