Incident Commander on the 416 Fire interviewed as the team’s assignment ends

Since the fire started June 1 about 10 miles north of Durango, CO., it has burned over 34,000 acres west of Highway 550

Above: An undated photo of the 416 Fire, from Inciweb.

After being assigned to the 416 Fire for two weeks Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will demobilize Friday morning and transition to Joe Reinarz’s National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team. Mr. Pechota is the Forest Fire Management Officer on the Black Hills National Forest but is currently detailed into his former bosses job which is vacant, the Forest Supervisor position.

File photo of Forest FMO Todd Pechota on a prescribed fire in 2016. Screen grab from a video by Bill Gabbert.

As Mr. Pechota’s time on the 416 Fire wound down, Alex Semadeni, a writer for the Durango Herald, interviewed the Incident Commander.

Below is an excerpt:

“We were playing a bit of a tough hand based on weather and topography and fuels,” Pechota said. “In many, many places of the fire, we just couldn’t land on a place where being able to take care of them (firefighters) in the event of an injury was an acceptable risk.”

Pechota was also concerned about the fire’s proximity to homes and the city of Durango in general. The fact that the fire was across the highway from the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire wasn’t lost on him either.

“It’s kind of eerie,” he said. “If you’re a student of fire, you would look across the road and see the burn scar of Missionary Ridge. And what is the thing about Missionary Ridge that people remember? Some people it may have been the flooding. Some people it may have been the size. Some people it may have been the huge fire whirl that went across Vallecito. But many of us, the thing that we remember is that somebody died fighting the fire.

“That’s one of those things that when you’re asking young men and women to go engage a fire that you look right across the road and there is the burn scar from an event that took somebody’s life. It heightens our awareness, it heightens our sensitivity of operations, all those kind of things.”

416 Fire chinook helicopter
A Billings Helicopters Chinook departs from a water source after refilling their new internal water tank to help suppress the 416 Fire.

Weather slows fire activity in Western United States

Above: Accumulated precipitation over the last seven days, June 12-18, 2018. 

Moderating weather over the last seven days has helped firefighters make progress on some of the fires in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah. Today’s national Situation Report showed little or no increase in the size of wildfires in those four states. The 416 Fire in southwest Colorado and the Badger Creek Fire in southern Wyoming released a total of 345 personnel over the last 24 hours.

Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is currently assigned to the 416 Fire, but Joe Reinarz’s NIMO team has been mobilized for the fire, which could be an indication that they expect it to be a long term incident. The west side of the fire has spread into steep, remote terrain above 8,000 feet as it grows closer to an 11,000 to 12,000-foot ridge five miles away. Much of the ridge is above the timber line and may eventually, with patience over time, serve as a barrier. Mr. Reinarz’s team team will transition on Friday.

Below, National Weather Service graphics show the observed precipitation and the departure from normal for the last 30 and 90 days.

precipitation 30 days
Accumulated precipitation, May 20 through June 18, 2018. NWS.
precipitation 30 days
Precipitation departure from average, May 20 through June 18, 2018. NWS.
precipitation 90 days
Accumulated precipitation March 21 through June 18, 2018. NWS.
precipitation 90 days
Precipitation departure from average, March 21 through June 18, 2018. NWS.

Fire north of Durango continues westward expansion

Above: Firefighters on the 416 Fire. Photo uploaded to Inciweb around June 9, 2018. Photographer unknown.

(UPDATED at 7:03 a.m. MDT June 13, 2018)

Most of the spread of the 416 Fire north of Durango, Colorado Tuesday and Tuesday night was on the west side where it continues to grow onto the higher slopes in terrain that becomes increasingly difficult for ground-based firefighters. The fire ate up about 1,500 acres to bring the total to 25,900 acres.

It was announced Tuesday night that  the evacuation order for residents in San Juan County will lift at 8 a.m. on June 13. Residents will need to present a Rapid Tag resident credentials to return. The residences in San Juan County will remain on pre-evacuation notice.

map 416 fire colorado wildfire
The red lines indicate the perimeters of the 416 and Burro Fires at 10:51 p.m. June 12, 2018. The yellow line was the perimeter about 24 hours before.

Resources on the 416 Fire include 9 Type 1 hand crews, 14 Type 2 hand crews, 55 engines, 3 dozers, and 4 water tenders for a total of 1,028 personnel. There are 203 personnel on the Burro Fire.

There was very little growth or activity on the Burro Fire Tuesday.

Fire management authorities are not releasing the cause of either fire.


(Originally published at 12:12 p.m. MDT June 12, 2018)

The wildfire with the odd name, “416”, continues to be very active especially on the west side. Over the past two days it has grown two miles closer to Durango, Colorado on the south side and is now seven miles from the north edge of the city, covering a total of 23,378 acres.

The west side of the 416 Fire has been the location of most of the activity recently where it has spread seven miles west of Highway 550 and to within six miles of another blaze, the 2,337-acre Burro Fire.

412 fire burro colorado wildfire
A 3-D map looking northwest showing the fires north and northwest of Durango, Colorado. The red line around the 416 Fire was the perimeter at 10:12 a.m. MDT June 11. The yellow line was the perimeter two days earlier. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:13 a.m. June 12.

The west side of the 416 Fire is burning at over 8,000 feet in terrain that is difficult for ground resources. An 11,000 foot ridge separates the two fires and in normal times should serve as a barrier preventing them from merging, but the way wildfires have been behaving in recent years is anything but “normal”.

Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is handling both fires.

The weather forecast for the fire area through Thursday calls for south and southwest winds of less than 10 mph, temperatures in the low 80’s, and 9 to 12 percent relative humidity. Beginning Thursday there is a chance of thunderstorms.

map burro fire 416 wildfires
Map showing the fires north and northwest of Durango, Colorado. The red line around the 416 Fire was the perimeter at 10:12 p.m. MDT June 11. The yellow line was the perimeter two days earlier. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:13 a.m. June 12.
trail mountain fire badger creek 416
Satellite photo at 6:42 p.m. MDT June 11, 2018, showing the Trail Mountain Fire, Badger Creek Fire, and the 416 Fire.

More evacuations ordered for the “416 Fire” north of Durango

Friday afternoon a new fire broke out 22 miles northwest of Durango, and northwest of the 416 fire.

Above:  An MD87 air tanker drops on the 416 Fire June 7, 2018. Photo by Dan Bender, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

The 416 Fire that started June 1 just north of Hermosa, Colorado 10 miles north of Durango has been consistently active every day since then. So far firefighters have been able to keep it west of Highway 550, and until Friday it was east of Hermosa Creek. But at about 5:45 p.m. MDT Friday the San Juan National Forest reported the fire had crossed the creek just west of Lower Hermosa Campground.

A mandatory evacuation order was issued Friday for 304 residences on the east and west sides of U.S. Highway 550 from Electra Lake Drive to Hermosa Cliffs Road and the north end of Two Dogs Trail.  More information about evacuations is available at the La Plata County Government Facebook page.

3-D map 416 Fire
3-D map of the 416 Fire at 1:21 a.m. MDT June 8, 2018.

Officials closed U.S. Highway 550 Friday afternoon due to fire activity.

smoke satellite photo 416 FireBurro Mountain Fire
Satellite photo taken at 5:47 p.m. MDT June 8, 2018 showing smoke from the 416 Fire and the Burro Mountain Fire.

Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. a new fire broke out northwest of the 416 Fire near mile marker 34 on HWY 145 . It is named the Burro Mountain Fire and at 5:47 p.m. MDT smoke from the fire was visible on a satellite photo. At 7 p.m. the San Juan National Forest was in the process of issuing closure orders for this fire.

Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will assume command of the 416 Fire at 6 a.m. Saturday.

Map 416 Fire
Map of the 416 Fire at 9:15 p.m. MDT June 7, 2018.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
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