By Erin Allen & Sara E Walker
Several weeks have passed since the evacuation was lifted, and while the experience is still very emotional, Durango is recovering.
That first day when only residents were permitted through the closed road, we returned to our home within a couple of hours. It was thrilling to return, but the composition of the experience was totally unknown to us.
The main road that we were traveling was only open by escort. Each lane was marked with cones and designated for a special purpose — authorized emergency, escort or returning traffic. The entire span of about 15 miles on that main highway was desolate except for the emergency vehicles and the vehicles being escorted. Each driveway donned an evacuation ribbon that could be seen from the road. Major neighborhoods were flanked by guards that would review your credentials before they would permit you to enter and who would hold you until the next escort arrived if you wanted to exit.
Once inside our neighborhood, we were virtually alone. We drove around looking to see who had also returned. Only four of us made our way back that first day. The air quality was so poor that you could not be outside. Taking a quick look out the window wasn't much help either, as the smoke and lack of life present created a very apocalyptic scene.
Slowly, the air began to clear and the people began to return after a few more days. The fire was still very active, and seeing spots of orange smoke across the road from our property along with fire and emergency crews kept us with one foot out the door. With the unpredictable activity of the fire, each day we didn't know if the air would be clear, if life would go on as usual or if it would be a red flag day forcing us to stay inside. Either way, at least we were home.
We are now in our recovery period, and it feels good. We are moving forward. The fire crews have left, and incident command has been turned over to the National Forest Service. The 416 Fire is no longer considered a threat.
Monsoon season is upon us, and much-needed rain has taken over our town, helping fire containment efforts immensely. While we can occasionally smell smoke, it no longer permeates the air, clogging our lungs and disrupting our very efforts to breathe. The San Juan National Forest and its trails are open. We can get outside.
The 416 Fire has certainly left its mark on us and Durango. Wildfires are now an accepted part of life living out here. We'll be reminded of it every time we look across Highway 550 and see the blackened and missing patches of Aspens and other vegetation.
No matter what, we still love living here. And, you know what? Durango is not only recovering, Durango is once again, thriving.