Durango residents affected by the 416 fire


Irie Senter, Editor

On June 1st, as DHS finals concluded and students flooded out of the front doors eager to begin summer break, Durango was set ablaze. Over the months of June and July, the San Juan National Forest lost nearly ninety square miles to the flames and $27,000,000 went up in smoke. Almost every Durango resident was affected by the 416 fire, by the thick haze that settled into the valley, the economic strain faced by the town’s loss of tourism, or the tension and worry that comes with an evacuation. Although the fire was contained and extinguished without harming any structures, its effects will live on within the community for years to come.

“Large forest fires are different than any other emergency that we respond to as firefighters,” said Durango Fire Protection District Captain Steve List. “A significant forest fire is unique because, almost by definition, it is an emergency that cannot be solved by us in a finite amount of time and with a finite amount of resources. Firefighters always feel a sense of responsibility to the members of the public who request our assistance. Basically, it is a pretty helpless and humbling feeling to arrive at the scene of a fire when you know there is no possibility of you and your crew containing and extinguishing it in the near future.”

Natural disasters are often stressful, and the risks of evacuation and danger are strenuous for the community.

Because [the fire] was getting close to our house, we were in pre-evacuation for several days and then we got told to move our things because of the wind. So it put a strain on us,” said Jr. Kyle Houle.

For some, the fire’s hazard was more severe, especially when disconnected from relatives or in remote locations.

“[When the fire broke out,] all I could think about was the fact that my husband was behind the fire and he might not be aware that it was going on. He was completely out of cell phone range because they were down in a small tributary in Hermosa Creek. So I freaked out that the sheriffs and other personnel would go house to house telling people about the evacuation, but they wouldn’t know about Jim and his workers being back there,” said DHS social studies teacher Leigh Gozigian.

The 416 fire is also expected to have an enormous environmental impact, though some Durango residents have tried to assuage the largest consequences.

“About a week after the fire started, my husband actually had to purposely put himself in harm’s way. There is a section of Hermosa Creek where is a strain of native cutthroat trout that only exist in this particular area. Fires can be incredibly damaging to waterways when ash flows in clogs the fish’s gills. My husband and other people in the fish community were concerned about the native cutthroat trout being wiped out, so they had to get permission from the federal government and all of the firefighters to collect samples so they would have some specimens of this fish left,” said Gozigian.

However, Durango is still expected to experience some environmental damage.

“The people who live below the burn areas in Hermosa and along the 550 corridor are going to be dealing with debris flows for the foreseeable future every time we have a significant rainstorm in the area,” said List.  

Although the 416 fire was a devastating event, it did come with some benefits.

“I do, however, see some positive consequences in the aftermath of the 416 Fire and that I witnessed after the Missionary Ridge Fire as well,” said List. “Residents in interface areas have been forcefully reminded that fuel mitigation is a necessity when living in or adjacent to forests. These efforts by neighborhood groups as well as individual homeowners made a substantial difference in the ability of fire crews to protect and to prevent a loss of structures. I have been part of crews making rapid and difficult assessments as to whether a home can be safely protected or not as the fire rapidly approaches and it is extremely difficult when it is your own neighbors and community who are being affected by your decision.”