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416 Fire smolders and creeps; crews focus on Falls Creek area

Return to dry, hot conditions expected this week
Hermosa Creek flows a little higher on Sunday morning with ash coming down from the 416 Fire burn area. Firefighters will concentrate on the Falls Creek and Junction Creek areas early this week.

The front line of battle on the 416 Fire will move to the fire’s southern edge Monday, where more than 200 firefighters will work to protect homes in the Falls Creek and Junction Creek areas.

Rain over the weekend, thanks to Tropical Storm Bud, caused the 416 Fire to have minimal to no growth, with much of the fire in a state of smoldering and creeping, said Type 1 team spokesman Cameron Beck.

As of Monday morning, the fire – which started June 1 – was 34,161 acres and 30 percent contained. A total of 1,087 personnel are working the fire.

Despite the desperately needed inch of rain over Durango and parts of the burn area, weather conditions this week will cause the region to dry out and bring back the potential for fire growth.

According to a morning update from the Type 1 management team, the San Juan National Forest remains in an exceptional drought, with an overall deficit of 5 inches of rain. Fire officials say the 416 Fire won’t be truly out until monsoons and colder weather arrive.

“While the threat to people and values has been significantly reduced, it is important to remember that the fire is not yet ‘out,’” according to the update.

Still, the rain over the weekend has allowed more than 200 firefighters to get on the ground this week and use “direct” tactics, Beck said.

“We’re going to go as close to the fire’s edge as possible and use hand crews to dig fire lines in an effort to eliminate the burning as much as possible,” Beck said.

On Monday, two hot shot crews will be flown onto a ridge near Falls Creek and dig a fire line on the southern edge of the fire, wrapping around to its northwest side.

Two more crews will hike into the area and also construct lines. As roads dry out, four more hot shot crews will join crews working on a fire line off Junction Creek Road, for a total of five crews.

Firefighters will assess the need for protecting homes there, the update said.

“While the risk of fire itself has decreased, these crews will still face considerably challenging conditions. A National Guard Blackhawk helicopter with medivac capabilities stands by in case of medical emergencies.”

Falls Creek is the only area still under an evacuation.

Pre-evacuation notices remain in effect for residences and businesses on the west side of County Road 203 from Trimble Lane south to the U.S. Highway 550 intersection, the 1000 block of County Road 204 to the Colorado Trail access, and County Road 205 north from the intersection of County Road 205 and 204 to the Falls Creek Ranch subdivision entrance.

Rain over the weekend did not bring mudslides or flash flooding, as feared, said Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management.

Knowlton called the rain over the weekend the “perfect prescription of rain” as moisture fell steady and slow. He said the drainage from Hermosa Creek is brining runoff with ash from the fire into the Animas River, changing its color.

Further to the west, rain had a similar impact on the Burro Fire, which is now at 3,715 acres and is 12 percent contained.

Highway 550 has fully reopened.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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