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Little Sand Fire burns more than 17,000 acres

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Tourists driving Thursday morning on U.S. Highway 160 east of Bayfield might think they are in the Smoky Mountains with all the smoke settling in from the Little Sand Fire, which is burning 13 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs.

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

The Little Sand Fire had burned 17,280 acres by Thursday evening, with haze and smoke visible in Durango and Bayfield. That’s up from 15,987 acres Wednesday night and 10,000 acres June 15.

The fire, which is burning 13 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs, was sparked by lightning May 13.

“It was pretty mild today,” Fire Information Officer Dean McAlister said. “But the next couple of days, they’re predicting drier, warmer and windier, so the fire index says it will support rapid growth.”

While McAlister was surprised the smoke was visible over here, because the wind was blowing primarily to the southeast, he said it was settling into the valley around Williams Creek Reservoir, as well, in an area where it had been clearing out in the afternoon.

“We had clouds around the periphery of the fire today,” McAlister said. “If by chance we get clouds over the fire tomorrow, that could temper things.”

Dean Phillips, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said southern Colorado, including the Durango and Pagosa areas, probably will not be under a red-flag warning today despite the fact that the areas all around us will be. That doesn’t mean the fire danger isn’t high.

“Beginning Saturday afternoon and building through the middle of next week, you’ll be getting dry thunderstorms with the potential of dry lightning strikes,” he said. “That’s a danger before the monsoons get into full gear; we get storms with little precipitation.”

In a news release, Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch said most of the campgrounds and businesses in the Piedra area are open, although guides are rerouting trips to avoid the Little Sand Fire.

Smoke is expected to continue to be visible from the fire for the foreseeable future.

“It’s been burning some 40 odd days,” McAlister said, “and it’s a long way from burning out.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

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