Rain will limit the spread of the 416 Fire, but fire officials said they doubt the moisture will much impact on dousing the blaze.
“There’s no dramatic impact to it today,” said spokeswoman Jamie Knight. “For the most part, today we’re expecting the fire to remain as is.”
The fire received 0.4 inches from Saturday morning’s rains, while the Hermosa Valley received 0.1 inch, Knight said. Winds were between 3 to 6 mph.
Because of the area’s drought conditions, a “slow and steady” rain is needed for two weeks or more to drastically impact the fire, Knight said.
“Certainly every little bit of rain that comes is fantastic, but this moisture event is definitely not going to change the situation dramatically.”
While rain can make certain firefighting tasks easier, it also creates new hazards. Firefighters will have to navigate slick rock and mud while continuing to battle the fire.
“It’s going to make the roadsides more slick, it’s going to make the hillsides more slick,” Knight said. “There’s pluses and minuses to rain on a fire.”
Firefighters plan to use the decreased fire behavior to continue to build fire lines and do long-term planning.
“We’re certainly using this opportunity to improve lines that are already out there and prepare ourselves for when the warm weather comes again,” Knight said.
Remnants of Tropical Storm Bud arrived early Saturday and sprinkled light rain on the 416 Fire burn area, the first prolonged and measurable rain since the wildfire started 16 days ago.
The rain started falling about 2 a.m. on the 32,959-acre burn area, and produced about 0.05 inches within four hours, said Tom Renwick, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The light rain was expected to increase around noon today and continue through Saturday evening, he said. Sunday afternoon is expected to bring more light rain.
In total, weather forecasters are calling for 0.8 inches of rain through Sunday evening, which is significant considering average rainfall for the whole month of June is 0.64 inches, Renwick said.
Residents can thank Tropical Storm Bud for the mid-June moisture.
“The remnants of Tropical Storm Bud is just getting into the mean flow and coming up north; it’s great,” Renwick said. “Everything just came together perfectly, where the high pressure is located, where this moisture is coming from – it pulled up into the rotation around that high and just comes right up into our area.”
A flash-flood warning is in effect until midnight, causing firefighters and emergency workers to keep a watchful eye on the rain and the impact heavier rainfall may have on the burn area later today. It takes only 0.25 inches of rain to cause flash flooding around burn areas. A quick thunderstorm can dump well over that amount, Renwick said. The high country received 0.11 inches of rain overnight.
“The soils really can’t hold any rain,” Renwick said.
Fire officials are predicting a 90 percent chance of wetting rain Saturday. La Plata County Emergency Services is working closely with the 416 Fire leadership to establish a specific flood response plan. The Type I team managing the 416 Fire has established a flood support group to support emergency management officials if necessary, and specialized water rescue teams are already in place should the need arise.
Overnight rains did not significantly alter fire behavior, however relative humidity was significant and will contribute to a less active fire, officials say. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-50s to mid-60s. Winds are expected to be 4 to 8 mph with occasional gusts up to 20 mph.
Crews will have to be patient during the thunderstorms, as firefighters wait for the best opportunity to utilize burnouts or direct attacks on the blaze. Crews will work to continue holding the fire on the ridgeline west of Hermosa. Crews will also continue scouting the west and north areas of the fire in an effort to prevent the fire from reaching Lightner Creek. Helicopters will continue to monitor the fire on the cliffs south of Electra Lake Road.
The Burro Fire, burning about 6 miles west of the 415 Fire, was last estimated at 3,484 acres and is 10 percent contained.
An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect average rainfall for June. Incorrect information was given to the Herald.