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416 Fire: Purgatory resort to reopen, Durango area likely safe

DURANGO, Colorado – The Purgatory Mountain Resort prepared to reopen on Monday even as the team battling the 416 Fire moved hotshot crews ahead of the fire’s northern edge near the resort.

“With the change in weather conditions, the northern fire spread has also slowed its advance to the north, reducing the probability of impacting Purgatory Resort and associated recreational activities,” fire managers said Sunday.

Progress is also being made on the fire’s southwest edge, where crews are working to finish “burnout” operations aimed at taking fuel away when the blaze moves from dense wilderness into clear-cut areas of the San Juan National Forest.

“The Incident Management Team is feeling good about the current progress being made on the southwest perimeter and is cautiously optimistic that the containment lines in the southwest area will hold and prevent the fire from hooking around and spreading south to the town of Durango,” fire managers said Sunday.

On Monday morning firefighters reported that 1,767 acres more were burned. The total area scorched is now up to 51,068 acres. The cost of fighting the fire has reached $27 million. There are 363 personnel assigned to the fire, which began on June 1.

Smoke was in the air as far south as Farmington on Monday morning and, in the fire zone, a dense smoke advisory was set to expire at 10 a.m.

Resort ready to reopen

One of the area’s major tourist destinations is getting ready to serve summer diners and get people on ziplines and other attractions after about a month of closure.

“Our Purgatory team is so excited to be back to work, and they can’t wait to reopen the resort’s activities starting July 2,” said Elizabeth Howe, director of operations for Mountain Capital Partners and Purgatory Resort.

“Everyone at Purgatory is looking forward to celebrating our community over the July 4th holiday week, and we can’t wait to see our friends, neighbors, and visitors at the resort,” she said.

The resort had to close shortly after the 416 Wildfire was first reported June 1. Fire crews built extensive fire lines around the Purgatory area.

The fire’s recently more aggressive advance on the northern side was slowed when a cold front moved in this weekend, raising humidity a bit and dropping temperatures. That reduced the probability the resort will be impacted, fire managers reported Sunday morning.

It also meant they could bring in reinforcements.

“With the overall success on the southern portion of the fire, fire managers now have the opportunity to relocate hotshot crews and wildland fire engines to assist the fire response around the Purgatory Mountain Resort and nearby communities,” the 416 Fire team said in their Sunday report. “Firefighter presence will continue to increase along the northern perimeter of the fire over the next few days as fire managers take advantage of the improving fire weather pattern.”

Not quite business as usual

Resort operators are eager to serve visitors, but they warn that visitors will see some fire crews as they improve fire lines.

“Purgatory’s top priority is the safety of our guests and employees, and we want everyone to stay safe while enjoying all that the resort has to offer,” resort manager Howe said. “We continue to work closely with the U.S. Forest Service, the 416 Fire officials, and local officials since the wildfire remains active to the south of the resort. Please know that our operating plans could change should we determine that is necessary.”

Purgatory’s operations may be suspended at any time if conditions change due to the 416 Fire, she said in the release.

“Purgatory is very appreciative to the first responders, firefighters, and everyone involved with the 416 Fire for all their efforts in battling the wildfire,” stated Howe. “We are grateful for everything they are doing to keep our community safe.”

Smoky air to continue

Fire crews will combine “hand firing” operations in the southern fire zone with support from helicopters that drop flammable plastic spheres to complete the final phase of operations along the fire’s southwestern edge.

“It is anticipated that by the end of the day today fire crews will have connected their firing operation along Forest Road 171 to a rock scree field on the east side of Olga Little Mountain,” firefighters reported Sunday.

Note: This story was published Sunday and updated Monday morning to include current statistics.

The increased firing operations mean increased smoke borne by northwest winds.

“The southern communities of Hermosa and Durango may feel the biggest impact of smoke as they are at the confluence of the Hermosa Creek and Animas River drainages which allows smoke from the the 416 fire to flow into the lower elevations and directly into the affected communities,” The fire team said Sunday.

Fire managers Sunday sought to clear up some confusion about evacuation orders.

“There is no pre-evacuation order in place north of the area called The Ranch and we don’t anticipate one being put in place if the weather cooperates,” they said Sunday on their Facebook page. “That said, please remain aware of the situation at all times. It’s also a good opportunity to asses you and your family’s plan for what you would do if there was an evacuation.”

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