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Wildfire forces closure of San Juan National Forest in Colorado

Extreme fire danger is shutting down the sprawling San Juan National Forest that includes some of Colorado's most stunning mountains, a rare tactic also being used in neighboring states as the US Southwest struggles with severe drought.

The forest, which covers more than 1.8 million acres in western Colorado, announced Tuesday the Stage 3 closure is "to protect natural resources and public safety" because of the danger of the blaze known as the 416 Fire.

"Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire or spark 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, or with human life and property," said Richard Bustamante, SJNF forest fire staff officer.

Anyone caught violating the closure, SJNF said, could be punished with an individual fine of up to $5,000 or $10,000 for an organization, a six-month prison sentence, or both.

The 416 Fire began June 1 near Durango, Colorado, and has has now burned 22,131 acres, La Plata County officials said.
It is 10% contained and there are 813 fire personnel battling flames.

There have been no reported injures and no structural damage as a result of the wildfire.

La Plata County Manager Joanne Spina declared a state of local disaster June 1 as a result of the fire, which led 1,500 residents to evacuate.
La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham said that 2,162 structures or homes have been evacuated since the beginning of the 416 wildfire, and 500 residents are currently on pre-evacuation.

The smoke from the wildfire has affected air quality, Graham said. Both state and local public health agencies have issued air quality advisories to stay inside until smoke clears, and have warned those who have health risks to be extra cautious.

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