237 firefighters battle Pagosa Springs blaze

Another, the Sunrise Mine Fire, near Paradox, is 85 percent contained

The Little Sand Fire near Pagosa Springs covers nearly 6 square miles and has grown to 4,280 acres. It is now 4 percent contained.

Fire managers said 237 firefighters battled the blaze Thursday, and the potential for continued growth is high. The Forest Service lifted the pre-evacuation notice for the Weminuche Valley on Thursday.

The San Juan National Forest also issued a warning about high fire danger Thursday. Although fire restrictions haven’t been enacted, fuel is dry, and fire danger is high.

In a campground without fire grates, campers are asked to consider using a camp stove instead, the alert said. Campfires should not be built under overhanging branches or near dry grass.

Hot vehicles should not be parked over grass, the alert said. Cigarettes should never be tossed.

The Little Sand Fire was caused by lightning on May 13.

“Smoke remains a concern in the Piedra River Valley and for the town of Pagosa Springs due to the long-term possibility of fire activity,” fire managers said in a news release Thursday night. “Increased smoke was seen over Pagosa Springs this afternoon due to midlevel winds at 10,000 feet increasing from the north/northwest.”

The structure-protection group worked on the northeast area of the fire removing brush around buildings.

Crews in the public fuel-wood area near Sportsman’s Campground removed limbs and ladder fuels, which can carry fire into tree tops.

The first injury was reported at the Little Sand Fire on Thursday, although it apparently was incurred several days ago. Fire managers would not release the firefighter’s name, but said the injury was minor and knee-related.

On a second front, the Sunrise Mine Fire four miles north of Paradox near the Utah border covers 9 square miles, 6,192 acres, and is 85 percent contained. More than 600 firefighters battled the blaze Thursday.

“We made good progress today, and we’re still on target to contain it by Sunday,” spokesman David Eaker said. “They’re so confident in what they can accomplish that the number of personnel and air support on scene is going to drop precipitously (Friday), perhaps by as much as half.”

Eaker said most would go to other fires, including the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

Bureau of Land Management fire investigators have been looking into the cause of the Sunrise Mine Fire since it began last Friday. In a report issued early Thursday afternoon, they said the results of the investigation were inconclusive, and they could not determine an official cause, although they know it’s human-caused.

“We were able to determine that lightning was not a factor based on lightning reports in the area,” said Barbara Sharrow, the BLM Uncompahgre field manager.

Eaker said that often, fireworks or other incendiary fuels will leave microscopic evidence, but none was found at the Sunrise Mine Fire.

Stable atmospheric conditions and light winds are expected to help firefighters today.

No structures are threatened.

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

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