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Fire managers report minimal activity today on 416 Fire, but keep watchful eye on weekend weather

Rains could mark critical transition period for firefighters
Helicopters at the helibase Thursday north of Durango prepare to take of for an afternoon of fighting the 416 Fire.
4:30 p.m.

Fire conditions are mostly calm and containment lines are holding on the 416 Fire, Incident Commander Todd Pechota said Friday at an afternoon news conference. Notably, firefighters have been able to protect Falls Creek Ranch subdivision, and zero structures have been lost in either the 416 or Burro fires.

Today there was some active fire on the west edge of the 416 Fire, he said. The west portion of the fire, in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness area, is so rugged and remote that firefighters are letting the fire take its natural path.

The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning in effect from 9 a.m. Saturday to 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

Flooding is a concern because the fire has eliminated the land’s ability to absorb water, said La Plata County Director of Emergency Management Butch Knowlton.

An interactive map has been created for evacuation information. Residents can enter addresses to see if they are in an evacuation zone.

11:15 a.m.

Residents and businesses from Needles north to the San Juan County line on both sides of U.S. Highway 550 can return to their homes and businesses from noon to 8 p.m. today. This includes Two Dogs, Twilight Peaks and Lake Purgatory subdivisions, as well as Silver Pick Lodge and Purgatory Resort.

In total, 761 residences and 94 businesses can re-enter at noon. These residences and businesses will remain under pre-evacuation orders, and residents will be subject to the limited opening hours of Highway 550, which will close at 8 p.m. Friday.

Law enforcement escorts for through traffic on Highway 550 will continue during the re-entry period.

10:40 a.m.

Storms entering the area for the first time since the 416 Fire broke out June 1 creates an array of possibilities that marks a critical transition period for fire officials.

The changing conditions from the hot and dry weather firefighters have endured to a possibility of moisture creates a wide variety of possibilities of changes. Rain levels, wind levels and lightning potential have firefighters alert and tuned into weather conditions.

“It’s definitely a transition day for this fire,” said spokeswoman Bethany Urban. “It’s certainly a time for change, and we’re going to have to monitor fire behavior, see how the weather goes, see how much water we actually get and see what that does to the behavior of the fire.”

Despite the chance of moisture, today is a critical fire day. A red-flag warning is in effect as a result of the dry lightning the storms could bring, and Thursday’s rain had minimal effect on the fire, Urban said.

Storms in the area could produce wetting rains later in the night but aren’t expected to have much impact. The storms could produce gusty winds up to 40 mph, and an increased chance of lightning. Humidity has risen to 15 percent, higher than it has been the past few days, but remains relatively low and isn’t expected to change fuel behavior, Urban said. Fire behavior will largely depend on cloud cover the storms produce.

Saturday is the day when moisture could positively affect the fire. Fire officials say up to an inch of rain is possible, resulting in a flash-flood watch being issued.

The weather period has necessitated a change in tactic for the southern portion for the fire, which had grown to 32,959 acres and is 18 percent contained. Fire officials have wanted to utilize burnouts the past two days in an effort to combat the fire, but the weather hasn’t allowed them to do those. Instead they’ll depend on fixed-wing aircraft to hold the fire on the ridgeline, and will reassess the situation after the weather period.

Smoke outlook for June 15-16
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“We’re letting the weather do its thing for a while, and then we’re going to assess what the most opportune tactic is,” Urban said.

The east and southeast portion of the fire is cooling down, Urban said. Crews continue to mop up the area and guard structures.

The majority of the growth occurred in the north and west sections, where crews continue to search for measures to stop the spread of the fire.

“There wasn’t a ton of growth overnight,” Urban said. “It was less than 1,000 acres.”

On the northern end, the fire continues to push north. Crews have kept the fire stuck on rocky outcrops and are holding the fire there with helicopter bucket drops. Fire officials aren’t expecting much fire activity in the area today, Urban said.

Eight helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft will assist firefighters on the ground.

Public information officers from the 416 Fire will be around town today posting information bulletins and answering questions. They will be at TruValue on Trimble Lane at 11:30 a.m., the Evacuation Center at Escalante Middle School at noon, and the Silverton post office at 2 p.m.

81301 Coffee is offering free coffee to all patrons Friday in an effort to create community unity.


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Smoke outlook for June 15-16 (PDF)

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