By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
A major wildfire in Colorado's San Juan National Forest is approaching the ski resort town of Durango. The blaze, known as the 416 Fire, has consumed almost 26,000 acres since it broke out on June 1.
So far, no injuries or deaths have been reported. Also, no structures have been destroyed.
Weather Conditions Interfering with Firefighters’ Ability to Contain 416 Fire
As of Wednesday morning, the fire was only 15 percent contained, KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs reported. On Tuesday, another 127 homes in the area were ordered to be evacuated, bringing the total of evacuated residences to more than 2,100.
“Fighting the blaze has proven challenging for the more than 1,000 emergency personnel working to contain it, as weather conditions thwarted their firefighting efforts over the weekend and into early this week,” Accuweather reported. Air quality in Durango is considered at “hazardous levels, the poorest level on the air quality index,” the weather information channel added.
Fire Officials Order Stage 3 Closure of San Juan National Forest
Due to extreme fire danger, fire officials have ordered a Stage 3 closure of the San Juan National Forest, effectively closing 1.8 million acres of the forest as the 416 Fire continues to grow, the Farmington Daily Times said. It is the first full closure of a national forest in Colorado since 2002, another very dry year. The closure will remain in effect until sufficient rainfall eases the fire danger.
“San Juan National Forest managers will close hundreds of miles of trails and thousands of miles of back roads to hikers, bikers, horseback riders and campers,” KRDO announced. “They want to prevent the possibility of an abandoned campfire or any other spark from starting a wildfire that could quickly spread in bone-dry vegetation and be pushed by hot, windy weather.”
The 416 Fire is now the fifth largest wildfire in Colorado history. It got its name because it is the 416th fire-related incident that the local Park Ranger district has responded to this unusually dry year.
The historic scenic and tourist favorite Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has stopped running because of the fire. However, officials are considering opening limited service later in the month using diesel-powered locomotives rather than the railroad’s coal-fired engines, which can throw sparks.
Firefighters dug in Sunday to create a fire line around most of the aptly named Purgatory Resort area, expecting the 416 Fire to spread, the Farmington Daily Times reported. A mandatory evacuation order was also issued for some 675 residences in the Purgatory/Durango Mountain Resort.
Verizon Wireless Providing Equipment to Assist Emergency Crew Communications
Verizon Wireless has deployed a Satellite Picocell on a Trailer (SPOT) "to provide enhanced 4G LTE voice and data coverage to assist emergency crews at the base camp of the 416 Fire," company spokesperson Meagan Dorsch said via email to the Daily Times. "Verizon has also provided over two dozen wireless hotspots and mobile devices to emergency crews working to battle the 416 Fire," she added.