Little Sand Fire 30% contained

But little weather relief in sight

It’s been one month since a lightning strike sparked the Little Sand Fire 14 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs.

As of Wednesday night, 130 personnel from three separate crews were fighting the blaze with assistance from five helicopters and three fire engines. Containment has risen to 30 percent, but continued hot temperatures and low humidity could make further progress difficult.

The southern edge of the fire – the side nearest Pagosa Springs – no longer poses a significant threat, information officer Matt Reed said. Crews are instead focusing their energy on the northeast perimeter, where the risk of spreading remains highest. Crews also continue to patrol scorched northwest areas near the Sand Creek drainage to extinguish smoldering logs and trees.

An estimated 9,400 acres of forest have now burned, 3,000 more than a week ago. Flames have crept along the ground consuming underbrush and also spread via “crown runs” between treetops.

The National Weather Service forecasts a slight chance of rainfall today and Saturday. But any moisture will likely be negligible. Sun and heat are expected to prevail through the end of next week, if not longer.

No structures have been destroyed since the fire ignited May 13, but Thursday morning authorities issued a pre-evacuation notice to campers and residents of the sparsely populated Weminuche Valley. Important belongings should be packed and people should be prepared to leave within 15 minutes if an evacuation is ordered, Reed said.

Plumes of smoke from the Little Sand Fire can be seen periodically from Durango on the eastern horizon. The smoke typically descends overnight into the valleys surrounding Pagosa Springs before rising at about 10 a.m. when the ground heats up.

“The vegetation is so dry. Even when containment is higher, smoke will be present until we get significant rainfall,” said lead information officer Suzanne Flory.

So far authorities have not requested any smoke-management specialists, but they are on standby in case air quality deterioriates, according to Reed.

A fresh crew of Type I “NIMO” disaster responders is scheduled to arrive Saturday, and will stay until management of the fire can be transferred to the Forest Service.

Firefighting costs have reached an estimated $3.4 million.

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com