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Western Colorado fires grow

By Stephanie Cook Herald staff writer

The Little Sand Fire northwest of Pagosa Springs grew dramatically Saturday, fueled by winds of more than 60 mph.

The lightning-caused fire, which was first reported May 13, was estimated at 490 acres Saturday morning, but spread to the north and east, up Weminuche Creek throughout the day.

The high gusts forced crews, including more than 50 firefighters, one bulldozer and two helicopters to stand down Saturday, as the fire grew to 2,325 acres.

“Firefighters were pulled from the line around 3 p.m. due to unsafe conditions,” said Pam Wilson, a spokeswoman for Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team was ordered because of the increase in the fire’s size and complexity, and crews were on scene early Sunday, hoping to control the spread of the fire to the north and east, said Brandy Richardson, also a spokeswoman for Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch.

A second meeting was held Sunday with south Hinsdale County residents to prepare for the possibility of an evacuation, and the Archuletta County Sheriff’s Office issued a pre-evacution order to residents in the Upper Weminuche Valley, including the Poma and Lindner Ranches, Richardson said.

Kevin Khung, the Pagosa District Ranger evacuated the Palisades, Cimarrona, Teal and Bridge campgrounds Sunday, and closures remain in effect on the Lower Weminuche Trail No. 595, the Little Sand Trail No. 591, and the Piedra River Trail No. 596 from the Piedra River Trail trailhead at its northern terminus down river to Sand Creek. The Forest Service also has closed the area to the north and west of the Piedra Trail up to Mosca Road.

“Winds have already started to moderate in the fire area, and more favorable conditions are expected for the next two days,” Richardson said Sunday morning.

Other fires have sparked around Western Colorado, and U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said crews continue to battle the Sunrise Mine Fire, north of Paradox near the Colorado-Utah border that has scorched at least 5,000 acres of rugged canyon land.

Sheriff’s deputies on Saturday evacuated the Buckeye Reservoir area, a popular recreation spot near the Utah border. The Rock Creek and Sinbad Valley areas also were evacuated.

The Sunrise Mine Fire was about 30 percent contained Sunday afternoon, said Shannon Borders, a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, in a news release. The cause of the fire is under investigation, Borders said.

Buckeye Road, R1 Road, U5 Road and John Brown Roads into the area are closed for public safety. Additionally, the San Juan County Sheriff in Utah placed road closures at the Redds property line on the north and south sides.

Fire crews have created defendable spaces around structures in the area, and no structures have burned.

There are seven aircraft, six engines, three 20-person crews and about 20 overhead personnel on the scene, Borders said. Additional resources including a Type 1 team are moving into the area.

Agencies fighting The Sunrise Mine Fire include the Montrose Interagency Fire Management Unit, Montrose County Sherriff’s Posse, Paradox Volunteer Fire Department, Gateway Fire Department, Nucla/Naturita Volunteer Fire Department, Manti-La Sal National Forest, Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit and other state of Colorado and Utah employees.

In addition, another large wildfire was reported east of Pueblo near Fowler on Sunday, prompting the closure of U.S. Highway 50. The exact size of the fire was not immediately clear.

scook@durangoherald.com The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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