The 416 Fire burns north of Hermosa, Colo., 10 miles north of Durango, Thursday, June 7, 2018.
Colorado firefighters braced for continued difficult wind and dry heat through mid-week as they battled multiple out-of-control blazes Sunday, including the 416 fire north of Durango, which doubled in size during the weekend and has devoured more than 16,000 acres of wilderness.
Another wildfire in southwestern Colorado near Dolores has expanded to nearly 500 acres, forcing closure of the Colorado Trail.
In Eagle County along Interstate 70, deputies were looking for three men in a blue-and-white pickup linked to the start of a 415-acre fire northwest of Wolcott. And firefighters Sunday evening called in a heavy air tanker and evacuated homes on grasslands southeast of metro Denver near Bennett as a grass fire spread across 80 acres.
The bone-dry conditions favored new fires any moment around the Rocky Mountain region. Temperatures on Sunday in the mountains topped 85 degrees and unpredictable wind gusts whooshing through grass and timber created ideal conditions for flames.
Weather forecasters were anticipating possible rain on Wednesday or Thursday, with spikes in humidity sooner, which could calm flames.
North of Durango Sunday night, the 416 fire in backcountry canyons near the Purgatory ski area was behaving the way federal fire managers anticipated, staying west of U.S. Highway 550, said Shawn Bawden, spokesman for the federally managed team of more than 800 firefighters battling that blaze, which broke out June 1.
While more than 2,200 residents have been evacuated, some for a week, no structures have been damaged and nobody’s been hurt, Bawden said.
“Few nerves are frayed. Everybody’s going through this thing very well.”
“It is burning in the wilderness now. But this is a full-suppression wildfire,” he said. As he spoke just west of the Animas River, winds were picking up, gusting to 35 mph, kicking up thick smoke. “It is just extreme dry conditions: Drought and wind.”
A federal flyover Sunday night was aimed at assessing the overall area burned, which had doubled since Friday from 8,700 acres to nearly 17,000 acres. The spreading smoke plume led the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue smoke advisories.
On Monday morning, some firefighters working on the Durango fire were expected to move west to where the Burro fire in the San Juan National Forest was burning, out of control, across 1,000 acres. Forest managers deemed hiking along the Colorado Trail too risky on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Eagle County sheriff deputies and firefighters scrambled on Sunday to deal with the Bocco fire, which broke out Saturday afternoon at the Wolcott public gun shooting range, holding it to 415 acres, county spokeswoman Kris Widlak said.
“We’re looking for three individuals” and a blue-and-white truck, Widlak said. “That vehicle was seen leaving where authorities believe the fire started at a rapid speed,” she said. “We would hope people would be smarter with the dry, windy weather.”
Flames and the potential they could spread forced the evacuation of homes in the Alkali subdivision Sunday afternoon.
A wildfire broke out near Bennett Sunday, quickly drawing firefighters as it spread toward four homes. Slurry or water drops were intended to protect structures.
Other wildfires that broke out over the weekend included an 80-acre blaze near Canon City in Fremont County.
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