In Colorado, 6 Wildfires Burn Across The Parched State

Jun 13, 2018
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A massive wildfire is burning in southwestern Colorado. It's one of at least six fires burning across the state. The 416 Fire has burned more than 23,000 acres near the town of Durango. Dan Boyce reports that the fire remains about 15 percent contained.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: Like we have face paint on.

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: Doe Williams and her two young kids are all wearing Batman outfits...

DOE WILLIAMS: Thank you, guys. Stay safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

BOYCE: ...Standing next to a field where hundreds of firefighters have put up their tents.

FABLE: We are giving cookies to the firemen.

WILLIAMS: We're just having fun, just trying to bring a smile to their faces.

BOYCE: Crews of men and women are returning to the base camp with soot-stained faces. An immense wall of smoke obscures the sun behind them. Eight helicopters are dumping water on the steep red and green hillsides where flames are clearly visible. Crews are actually lighting fires to burn off vegetation and stop the fire from advancing. Incident Commander Todd Pechota says his team has not lost any structures yet to the blaze. But with the rugged landscape, the layout of the buildings in its path, this is tough work.

TODD PECHOTA: From a complexity standpoint, this is as challenging of a fire as we've ever dealt with.

BOYCE: More than 2,100 homes remain evacuated. About 20 people have moved to an impromptu Red Cross shelter in a Durango middle school. Aaron Montoya is sleeping there on a cot in the gymnasium with his family. Technically, his house is in pre-evacuation status, meaning evacuation is not yet mandatory. But he's not taking chances.

AARON MONTOYA: My house is full of smoke. I can't be there because my baby's coughing. And it's not safe for us to go home.

BOYCE: Officials are hoping to lift at least some of the evacuation orders as early as today. The fire is raging in and around the San Juan National Forest. And as of Tuesday, the forest is closed to visitors. The reason is not just this fire but because fire danger remains very high due to exceptional drought. Forest officials say it will remain closed until, quote, "the forest receives sufficient moisture to improve conditions."

As Doe Williams hands out cookies at the base camp, she glances up at the fire beyond. Her family lives right across the street from the firefighters' tents.

WILLIAMS: Every now and then, I look out and I get a little scared. But then I remember who's sleeping next to us (laughter) - next to our house each day. And it really gives me a lot of comfort.

BOYCE: This fire does have an unusual name. It's called the 416 Fire because it's the 416th fire-related incident the local ranger district has responded to so far in this very dry year.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Durango, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX TAYLOR'S "MY BURN (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.