PARADOX – Fire managers have requested an additional helicopter to help fight a 9-square-mile wildfire in southwestern Colorado near the Utah border.
Rita Baysinger of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center says a helicopter flew Wednesday to battle flames in a steep and rugged area of the Sunrise Mine Fire, near Paradox.
By Wednesday evening, 621 personnel and five other helicopters were battling the blaze. It was declared 70 percent contained Wednesday evening, with 6,130 acres burned.
“We’re expecting full containment by Sunday,” Public Information Officer David Eaker said, “but we’re hoping to get it done even earlier.”
Eaker says no structures are threatened. Crews are working to get ahead of high winds expected through the weekend.
A second fire, the Little Sand Fire near Pagosa Springs, grew by 450 acres overnight. The lightning-sparked blaze has scorched more than 4.6 square miles, 3,754 acres, and is threatening 40 structures.
The Forest Service held two informational meetings in the Pagosa Springs area attended by about 100 people Wednesday. Residents were warned the fire is expected to last for some time, with smoke impacts predicted in the Piedra River Valley and Pagosa Springs. Another meeting will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Sportsman’s Campground.
The Little Sand Fire remains at zero containment.
“But we’re not in full suppression mode on this fire,” Public Information Officer Laura McConnell said. “We have different objectives in different areas, and there are some where we are letting Mother Nature take its course.”
Six fire crews, for a total of 246 personnel, are working the blaze. No structures have been lost in the Little Sand Fire, either.
“The important thing is that the line on the Piedra River is holding,” McConnell said.
Two helicopters are assisting firefighters. Fire engines are working on structure protection around homes on the north and east side of the fire. Five fire engines were on scene Wednesday.
“At the meetings, people asked why we weren’t using helicopters more,” McConnell said. “We showed them photos of the area, and the canopy is so thick and the dead downed material is so dense, the water just rolls off. It’s like trying to put out a grass fire with a spray bottle.”
On the north end of the fire, crews are working near Piedra Road above the Bridge Campground. Crews are taking down hazardous trees and doing preparatory work near Sportsman’s Campground, and a bulldozer is being used to improve access to old logging roads.
On the south end of the fire, crews were monitoring an indirect fireline and dealing with spot fires. The west side of the fire was being monitored by air.
Herald Staff Writer Ann Butler contributed to this story.