An afternoon rain shower wet the ground at Animas Valley Elementary School, where a Type 1 federal firefighting team is conducting firefighting operations in Hermosa.
An afternoon news conference had to be moved inside because of the rain.
It’s unlikely the rain will have a significant impact on the 416 Fire, but more rain is expected Saturday.
At the news conference, fire officials said the 416 Fire has grown to more than 32,000 acres, with most of that growth occurring on the west and northwest sides of the fire.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said about 70 percent of residents who were evacuated have been allowed to return home.
From noon to 8 p.m. today, 375 evacuated residences and 19 businesses can return to their homes or places of work.
These are in addition to the 560 homes and 20 businesses that were allowed to return Wednesday in the Rockwood, Tamarron and Glacier Club areas.
Residents who live on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 from mile marker 33.5 at Honeyville north to the Glacier Club entrance at mile marker 39.5 can return to their homes and businesses. This includes Animas Village and Pine Acres apartments.
Residents and businesses on the east side of Highway 550 to the Animas River from Mead/Albrecht Lane north to Rockwood may also return to their homes and businesses. This includes The Ranch and Goodman subdivisions.
In order to enter these areas, residents must show their RapidTag credentials, which are available at Trimble Crossing at the intersection of Highway 550 and Trimble Lane and at the highway’s northern closure point at mile marker 49.5, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and at Escalante Middle School, 141 Baker Lane in Durango, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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. today. The highway is scheduled to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, with law enforcement escort.
Law enforcement escorts for through traffic on Highway 550 will continue during the re-entry period.
The 416 Fire has its first chance at precipitation today, though fire officials are doubtful the rains will have much of an impact on the 14-day-old fire.
Weather forecasters are calling for a 20 percent chance of rain, though they give only a 5 percent chance for a “wetting rain,” said spokeswoman Jamie Knight.
Fire officials are more concerned that thunderstorms in the area could produce dry lightning and bring gusty winds of 40 mph. A red-flag warning is in effect for today, meaning conditions will be hot, dry and windy. Weather forecasters have issued a flash-flood watch from 9 a.m. Saturday until 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s likely there’s a little bit of moisture associated with those storms, but it’s going to be primarily dry,” Knight said. “With the storms comes the lighting and those gusty winds. We’re definitely asking the firefighters to keep their eyes open and their heads up and pay attention to any changes in the weather.”
The 416 Fire grew to 29,147 acres as of this morning. It remains 15 percent contained.
Fire officials are monitoring storm activity to see how it will affect planned back-burns today. After heavy burnout activity on Monday and Tuesday that produced visible plumes, back-burns weren’t done on Wednesday.
“They are waiting to see how the weather progresses to determine if this is the day and the time to do those back-burns,” Knight said. “We want to make sure that what we do aligns well with all of the insets and parameters that we’re receiving.”
Crews continue to work along the southwest side of the fire near County Road 205, where the fire is most active. Fire officials praised the mitigation work done by residents beforehand that has helped firefighters defend homes along the fire’s path.
The fire also continues to spread north, though at a much slower rate than it has on the south side, Knight said. Officials have prepared fire lines in advance of Purgatory and residences in that area in case the fire continue to spread in that direction.
Residences and businesses in the Rockwood, Tamarron, and Glacier Club areas who were evacuated on June 1 were allowed back into their homes Wednesday. They remain on pre-evacuation notice.
As the east side of U.S. Highway 550 becomes more secure, fire officials are pulling firefighters from the area to help on other parts of the fire. Crews will continue to patrol the corridor for hot spots and to watch for spot fires.
As the eastern portion of the fire has calmed, the fire has become more active in other areas. A pre-evacuation order was issued Wednesday evening for 207 residences and two businesses on the south end of the fire.
Fire officials said Wednesday they believe the 416 Fire won’t be contained until the end of July. They don’t expect residents to be out of their homes that long, but they also weren’t able to give an estimate on when people might be able to return home.
Over 1,000 fire personnel are battling the fire. Many firefighters have been working the fire for two weeks, meaning they’re about to time out and be given a break. Incident Commander Todd Pechota said he plans to bring in more crews to replace outgoing firefighters.
Highway 550 is open with limited access from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, dependent on weather conditions.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Rep. Scott Tipton will visit the Durango area Friday. They will visit with fire officials and meet with city and county officials.
The Burro Fire, burning 10 miles west of the 416 Fire, has grown to 3,400 acres and has no containment.
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San Juan Basin Public Health in conjunction with Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment Health have placed additional air-quality monitors in the area. Data from the monitors show the amount of all the microscopic particles in the air that can cause respiratory problems, especially for individuals with respiratory illnesses or heart disease, the elderly, and children. To view real-time data, visit