Evacuations Ordered in Colorado as Wildfire Grows

The 416 Fire, right, and the Burro Fire, left, northwest of Durango, Colo., are seen here on June 9, 2018. (Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)

(CN) – A wildfire burning in southwestern Colorado nearly tripled in size over the weekend to 22,000 acres by Monday, forcing evacuations and causing the closure of the San Juan National Forest.

The 416 Fire, burning north of Durango, grew from 7,600 acres on Saturday to 22,131 acres on Monday.

The fire is only 10 percent contained, with more than 800 firefighters working to put it out, using fire crews borrowed from both coasts, engines, five dozers, four water tenders, and eight helicopters.

“We’re thinking about repopulation when things settle down, but expect a long duration event. This is going to be one of those that takes Mother Nature to cooperate to really make it secure,” said firefighter Rob Powell, who is working as operations chief on the fire.

No injuries or structural damage have been reported, but more than 2,200 homes have been evacuated. On Sunday, 675 homes in La Plata County were evacuated, as well as the Purgatory Resort in Durango.

The 416 Fire is the largest the state has seen since 2013’s Black Forest Fire, which reached 14,000 acres. It started blazing on June 1, near the Four Corners area, and has since been coaxed north and east by severe winds and low humidity.

The U.S. Forest Service made the decision Sunday to close the San Juan National Forest to the public, which is expected to take effect Tuesday.

The 416 Fire northwest of Hermosa, Colo., on June 10, 2018. At right Highway 550 is visible. (Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)

Campgrounds, hiking trails, day-use areas and roads will be closed due to increased fire danger in the area.

“Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire or spark could cause a catastrophic wildfire, and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care, or with human life and property,” Richard Bustamante, forest fire staff officer for the San Juan National Forest, said in a statement.

The Colorado Department of Transportation also expanded its closure of U.S. Highway 550 to include a 300-mile stretch from Hermosa to Cascade.

In response to wildfire smoke, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air-quality health advisory for places near the wildfire, including La Plata, Durango, and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

Durango is expected to continue experiencing dry, sunny weather on Monday and Tuesday, with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. Conditions are expected to let up with a chance of rain Thursday and Friday.

At nearly 34 square miles, the 416 Fire is about as about big as Bismarck, North Dakota or Bloomington, Illinois.

The largest recorded fire in Colorado was the Hayman Fire in Pike National Forest in 2002. The 137,000-acre blaze destroyed hundreds of homes and killed five firefighters.

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