416 Fire grows, forces hundreds to evacuate in southwest Colorado

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LA PLATA COUNTY, Colo. -- A wildfire in southwest Colorado has scorched nearly two square miles and forced the evacuation of 825 homes. Crews fought the fire on the ground and from the air Saturday.

La Plata County officials say the 416 Fire was spotted Friday morning about 10 miles north of Durango and spread quickly in shifting winds, burning about 1,974 acres by Saturday afternoon.

The fire was 10 percent contained as of approximately 6 p.m. Saturday, according to officials. They said that weaker winds on Saturday helped slow the fire's growth. Wind speeds were 3 to 5 mph with gusts up to 10 mph.

Residents in another 760 structures were told to get ready to leave in a moment's notice. The pre-evacuation notice includes the following:

  • Purgatory
  • Durango Mountain Resort
  • Cascade Village
  • Celadon
  • Red Tail Mountain Ranch
  • Elkhorn Mountain

U.S. Highway 550 will remain closed Saturday between mile markers 35.5 and 43.5. The fire started on the west side of Highway 550 but is now burning in the San Juan National Forest.

Resources fighting the fire include:

  • 4 heavy tankers
  • 1 single engine air tanker (SEAT)
  • 1 very large air tanker (VLAT)
  • 3 helicopters
  • 14 engines
  • 7 firefighting crews
  • 4 hotshot crews
  • 1 water tender

There are more than 200 firefighting personnel on the scene.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad canceled Saturday rides as a result of the severe fire danger. Passengers on Friday were taken to Silverton and were bused back to Durango.

The Durango Herald reports that several witnesses indicated the fire started near the train tracks, although no official cause has been released.

Saturday’s operations focused on protecting neighborhoods and threatened infrastructure and quickly extinguishing any spot fires. Firefighters will work along U.S. Highway 550 to keep the fire from crossing the highway.

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Authorities declared a state of local disaster in La Plata County Friday night because of the rapidly growing wildfire, ongoing drought conditions and the potential for additional wildfires.

Evacuations were ordered from the Electra Lake area south to Baker's Bridge on the east side of Highway 550, west of the Animas River. La Plata County sheriff's deputies were going door-to-door to notify residents.

An evacuation center was open at Escalante Middle School at 141 Baker Lane in Durango. A second evacuation center was open at Silverton School, 1160 Snowden Street in Silverton.

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Traffic on Highway 550 is being rerouted to County Road 250, according to La Plata County officials.

Livestock can be evacuated to the La Plata County Fairgrounds at 2500 Main Avenue. The emergency call center at (970) 385-8700 can help coordinate pick-up of livestock. Small animals are being accepted at the La Plata County Humane Society, 1111 South Camino del Rio, Durango (970) 259-2847.

The Discover Goodwill of Durango, 1230 Escalante Drive, is now accepting clothes and household donations. Financial donations can be made by calling the Community Foundation serving Southwest Colorado at (970) 375-5807, in the name of the Community Emergency Relief Fund.

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