The 416 Fire between Durango and Purgatory has spread to almost 3,000 acres, and more evacuations have been ordered as a precaution. More than 400 firefighters supported by six helicopters and two air tankers are fighting the fire. Officials say it remains at 10 percent containment, no homes or structures have been lost.
Firefighters may not get any help from the weather. Temperatures in the area Tuesday were expected to top out in the low 80s, with afternoon humidity in the single digits and winds gusting up to 20 mph, according to InciWeb. Higher than normal air temperatures are expected for the remainder of the week.
Among the firefighters’ stated goals on Tuesday: Cutting back vegetation around buildings in order to create defensible spaces, building firelines, and lighting small fires ahead of the main fire’s expected path in order to burn off fuel.
The news about the early season wildfire comes as University of Colorado-Boulder researchers say last year’s wildfire season was the costliest in U.S. history. The combination of a wet 2016/2017 winter, a dry fall and a hot summer helped fuel that number -- and points to lessons for what may be to come this year.
"We have flood plain maps but we don't we have firescape maps to help disincentivize where people are building,” said lead study author Jennifer Balch. “The other piece that we need to do is we need to use fire to fight fire and what that means is using prescribed burns and accepting prescribed burns."
Last year, 50,000 wildfires burned 8.5 million acres of land in the United States, and Balch’s work concluded that humans were responsible for starting 84 percent of the blazes.