As Colorado Battles 416 And Buffalo Fires, Preparedness And Speed Hold The Line

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4min 55sec
<p>John Daley/CPR News</p>
<p>Plenty of dry fuel and record high temperatures have fire officials concerned the potential for blazes this summer, such as the Buffalo Fire near Silverthorne.</p>
Photo: Buffalo Fire Silverthorne Summit County
Plenty of dry fuel and record high temperatures have fire officials concerned the potential for blazes this summer, such as the Buffalo Fire near Silverthorne.

Multiple wildfires continue to burn across Colorado, ar officials evacuate hundreds of residents and call in fleets of aircraft and ground crews to battle the blazes.

As firefighters moved in to contain the 416 Fire near Durango and a few San Juan County residents began to return home to the area, the Buffalo Fire in Silverthorne roared to life. The 91-acre wildfire in Summit County is keeping more than a thousand people from their homes.

However, many say a quick response as well as fire breaks carved out years ago kept the Buffalo Fire from exploding. Helicopters are pulling in water from Lake Dillon as air tankers fly over with fire retardant.

The speedy reaction time was due to how close the wildfire sprung up to two subdivisions along the mountain. So far no structures or human lives have been loss. Crews are mopping up small spot fires and cutting fire lines.

Chopper crews are pulling water out of Lake Dillon and other nearby lakes to douse hot spots on Buffalo Mtn Fire #BuffaloMountainFire

Fire breaks were dug around the two subdivisions about 10 years ago. The breaks are 500-foot wide gaps where trees were chopped down to help stop the flames from spreading from wilderness to home.

Officials are optimistic about containing the fire, but with the days ahead still hot, dry and windy, activity could change. Fire season came early this year to Summit County, two weeks earlier than last year’s July 5 start date.

Residents of about 180 out of the more than 1,900 homes evacuated because of 416 Fire were able to go home to today. Officials hope to lift more evacuation notices soon, but it all depends on the fire's activity as it continues to grow. Containment is currently at 15 percent.

"We continue to secure portions of the line and make progress. But as we do that, those places where there is no containment (some days outpaces) the progress that we made,” Rocky Mountain Incident Commander Todd Pechota said.

The 416 Fire still hasn't claimed any structures, even when it encroached on resident's backyards, Pechota said.

Colorado is more prepared to tackle the half-dozen wildfires burning statewide right now than it was in 2012 and 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper said. Those years both brought brutal fire seasons that destroyed hundreds of homes. The governor said government agencies now work better and faster together.

"We can dramatically increase the horsepower of our response. Before it would take 24-48 hours to do the paperwork and get that kind of unified response together,” Hickenlooper said.

Much of the west is experiencing some level of drought. Fires near Moab, Utah and Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming have also spurred evacuations.

CPR News reporters Xandra McMahon and Nathaniel Minor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.