Firefighters use burnouts to outsmart 416 Fire

Blaze grows to 22,130 acres; more homes on pre-evacuation; public lands to close

Wildfire update as of June 11, 2018 10:33pm courtesy of Patrick Armijo / Durango Herald Education, business & read estate reporter

HERMOSA – The ominous plume north of Durango churned for an eleventh day Monday, putting up periodic puffs of black smoke as the blaze found pockets of thick vegetation – some discovered by natural fire progression, others from burnouts, in which firefighters set their own fires to starve the 416 Fire of fuel.

Dozens of hand crews built fire lines around homes, removed vegetation and conducted burnouts on the south side of County Road 202 near Hermosa. The burnouts require care and precision: Fires are set to various parts of a hillside and allowed to run into each other as they move up the mountain. It is a controlled process with fuels removed piecemeal, thereby preventing a massive inferno.

Meanwhile, dozens of firefighters stand guard around houses looking for any hot embers that may fall and start spot fires. They spray water on landscaping and structures. Air resources keep watch from the sky.

It can be an eerie scene. Neighborhoods are evacuated, emergency lights are flashing, firehoses are sprawled out on roadways, huge vats of water sit ready, some residents leave sprinklers running. Ash falls from the sky.

Despite the stark landscape, firefighters on County Road 202 were treated to a rare sight Monday: A black bear darted past them, perhaps in search of more suitable habitat, perhaps frightened by all the firefighting activity.

The 416 Fire had grown to more than 22,130 acres as of Monday morning – the most recent estimate available – and remained 10 percent contained as of Monday night.

More pre-evacuation notices came Monday – issued for 127 homes along County Road 205. The pre-evacuation includes the east and west sides of County Road 205 from the intersection with County Road 204 to the south and the Falls Creek subdivision to the north.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for 2,156 residences.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Sunday it intends to close the San Juan National Forest. The closure is expected to take effect Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, La Plata County government plans to enact Stage 3 fire restrictions, and the city of Durango will consider closing trails and open spaces in city limits, including Animas City Mountain, Carbon Junction, Dalla Mountain Park, Horse Gulch and Overend Mountain Park.

Shawn Bawden, a spokesman for the 416 Fire, said in a news release Monday night that the west side of the fire will continue to grow as it moves into heavier fuels, but the fire in this section is behaving as predicted.

This map shows areas evacuated and on pre-evacuation notice for the 416 Fire.

Near Hermosa, firefighters are using burnouts to build a line from the cliff face near Hermosa Creek southward to Tripp Gulch. This preburn will starve the fire. Helicopters drop water during burnouts to lessen fire intensity.

Smoke from these operations were putting up much of the plume seen from Durango.

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