Colorado, like most of the drought-stricken U.S. West, has its hands full with wildfires. At least six are burning in various corners of the western side of the state.
The Buffalo Mountain Fire erupted Tuesday, not too far from Silverthorne, Lake Dillon and busy I-70, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,300. Only about 100 acres have burned, but the fire was dangerously close to the dense Wildernest and Mesa Cortina neighborhoods.
“This area, there is a lot of homes that are pretty tightly packed together,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Bianchi said. “Being a resort town, there’s a need for a lot of housing and there’s only so much available space for good land to build on.”
The Buffalo Mountain fire had not destroyed any homes as of Tuesday night.
Meanwhile in the state’s brutally dry Four Corners region, the state’s largest blaze kept burning in the San Juan National Forest, which has been closed to the public to try to prevent additional fires. The 416 Fire has burned 23,378 acres since it started on the first day of June near the town of Durango. The fire remains about 15 percent contained.
Anxious residents who were evacuated in San Juan County received some good news Tuesday night as their evacuation orders will be lifted Wednesday morning. Those residents will then remain on pre-evacuation notice.
Residences in San Juan County due to #416Fire will be allowed re-entry beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday. U.S. Highway 550 will be open to escorted traffic from noon-6 p.m. Wednesday & northern closure point will move to mile marker 49.5 just north of Purgatory. pic.twitter.com/mUmCPt6o0x— La Plata County, CO (@LaPlataCountyCO) June 12, 2018
Incident Commander Todd Pechota said his team has not lost any structures yet. But, with the rugged landscape and the layout of the buildings in its path, this is tough work for the more than 900 firefighters here.
“From a complexity standpoint, this is as challenging of a fire as we’ve ever dealt with,” Pechota said
More than 2,100 homes remain evacuated, including residents in La Plata County.
Tuesday night at the main base camp for firefighters working the 416 — so named because it’s the 416th fire related incident the local ranger district has responded to so far this very, very, dry year — Doe Williams and her two young kids were handing out cookies to the firemen.
“We’re just having fun, just trying to bring a smile to their faces,” Williams said.
Crews of men and women returned to camp with soot-stained faces, an immense wall of smoke obscures the sun behind them. As Williams handed out cookies, she glanced up at the fire beyond.
Her family lives right across the street from the firefighters’ tents.
“Every now and then I look out and I get a little scared, but then I remember who’s sleeping next to us, next to our house each day and it really gives me a lot of comfort,” she said with a laugh.
Further north of Durango and Silverthorne, additional firefighters were headed to Wyoming to work on a wildfire that has exploded in size and prompted evacuations near the Colorado border.
The Badger Creek Fire grew rapidly Monday because of strong winds and dry conditions and had scorched about 3.6 square miles of mostly beetle-killed forest. Several small communities of permanent and seasonal residences were ordered evacuated, but no buildings were burned.
Freelance reporter Dan Boyce and the Associated Press contributed to this report.