Colorado Blaze Continues to Grow; Entire San Juan National Forest to Close

Pam Wright
Published: June 11, 2018

A wildfire blazing in southwestern Colorado continues to grow Monday after more than doubling in size over the weekend amid dry, gusty conditions.

Due to the extreme fire danger, the U.S. Forest Service announced Monday it plans to close the entire, nearly 3,000-square-mile San Juan National Forest to the public.

The closure order is expected to be signed Tuesday and will remain in effect "until the forest receives sufficient moisture to improve conditions," according to a statement.

The so-called 416 Fire burning 10 miles north of Durango has consumed 34 square miles as of Monday morning local time and was 10 percent contained. Fire spokesman Brian Eady told the Associated Press that the increase noted over the weekend was the result of both the fire's natural growth and intentional blazes sparked by firefighters in an effort to control its movement. 

"It's going to get worse before it gets better," incident commander Todd Pechota told The Durango Herald.

It could be some time before the forest is reopened considering there is no rain in sight. 

Another 675 homes were evacuated Sunday, bringing the total to more than 2,000 homes evacuated. Deputies are going door to door to alert residents. There have been no reports of homes being damaged by the blaze.

The fire was sparked around 10 a.m. June 1, according to Inciweb. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The fire is one of several blazes burning in Colorado, New Mexico and California amid dry conditions and severe drought. 

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Ute Park Fire, New Mexico

A Ute Park blaze burning in northern New Mexico has burned 57 square miles and was 77 percent contained as of Sunday. Earlier in the week, residents in the area were ordered to evacuate.

The fire destroyed 14 unoccupied structures at the Boy Scouts' Philmont Ranch overnight as it burned near Highway 64 in Ute Park. 

Officials said the fire danger forced the closure of the Santa Fe National Forest Friday morning, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. It will remain closed until conditions improve, the report added.

"Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire could cause a catastrophic wildfire, and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care," National Forest supervisor James Melonas said in a statement.

Northern New Mexico has been in a prolonged period of extreme drought. Areas in and around Ute Park are in exceptional drought, the worst category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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