416 Fire grows to more than 27,000 acres; some residents allowed to return home

DURANGO, Colo. – The 416 Fire in southwestern Colorado remained at 15 percent containment Wednesday morning as some residents were allowed to return home.

The fire, which is burning about 10 miles north of Durango, was estimated to be 27,420 acres in size as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.

San Juan County residents were allowed back home starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. They will have to show authorities their Rapid Tag resident credentials if they are to be allowed back into their homes.

La Plata County officials said residents in the Tamarron, Glacier Club and Rockwood areas would be allowed to return home starting at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Those residents must have credentials and they will only be allowed into or out of the area until 6 p.m. when the highway will once again close to traffic.

U.S. Highway 550 reopened at noon on Wednesday to escorted traffic until 6 p.m. The northern closure point has moved from Molas Pass to just north of Purgatory Resort. Officials said they planned to have the highway opened from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

However, as some residents were allowed back, more were put on notice. Pre-evacuation notices were issued late Wednesday for more than 200 residents along the west side of County Road 203.

The decision was made Tuesday afternoon because of predicted fire behavior and progress made in fighting the fire Tuesday. A La Plata County spokesperson said the lifting of the evacuations for San Juan County applies to 184 homes.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, incident commander Todd Pechota said that no structures had been lost, and downgraded the size estimate to 26,500 acres. He said a new aerial mapping was planned for Wednesday afternoon.

He said that they hope to eventually get U.S. 550 open in coming days and that the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

"This is what good government looks like—all of us working together to take care of folks," Pechota said of the massive teamwork involved in battling the fire. With two more days of dry weather in the forecast and possible rain ahead this weekend, he said there would be much more work ahead of crews.

"There's another 48 hours of really tough work ahead of [firefighters] and a glimmer of hope for the weekend. But I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

MAP: Here are the major wildfires currently burning in Colorado

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday implored people to continue visiting Durango to help support its economy as the 416 Fire burns 13 miles north of the city.

The spokesperson said that additional re-entries for some La Plata County residents would be considered as progress is made on the fire’s east side. Residents can call the community hotline at 970-385-8700 if they have questions.

La Plata County Commissioners enacted Stage 3 fire restrictions on Tuesday, closing all county trails, banning all fires except with prior notice during the restrictions and banning firearms shooting in the area.

Forestry officials also decided to close all 2,800 square miles of the San Juan National Forest due to high fire danger. The forest will remain closed to all activities until the area receives enough rain to improve conditions. 

The Burro fire, which is burning to the west of the 416 Fire, was 2,829 acres in size and zero percent contained as of Wednesday morning.

On Friday, a host of Colorado leaders, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Rep. Scott Tipton will be in the area meeting with local government leadership, firefighters and community members.

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