Weather helps subdue Lightner Fire

Containment at 40 percent


A single-engine tanker makes a drop on the Lightner Creek Fire north of U.S. Highway 160 and west of Durango. Enlarge photo

Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald

A single-engine tanker makes a drop on the Lightner Creek Fire north of U.S. Highway 160 and west of Durango.

Crews are gaining the upper hand on the Lightner Creek Fire, which broke out Wednesday three miles west of Durango. The blaze was not expected to spread beyond the current estimate of 80 acres, fire officials said Thursday morning.

Containment is pegged at 40 percent, and barring adverse weather conditions, officials are hoping for full containment by Friday evening, said Dan Bender, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

“At this time, we’re confident,” he said. “But we’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

No homes have burned, but 60 structures are being carefully watched.

Residents north and west of the junction of Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207) and Dry Fork Road (County Road 208) were put on pre-evacuation notice Wednesday. It will stay in effect until 8 p.m. tonight, extended only if fire behavior changes for the worse.

“There has been an incredible collaborated response on all the fires over the past several days,” said Bender. “And that’s directly why we haven’t lost any houses.”

Trace amounts of rain fell on the fire around 3 p.m. Wednesday, which helped mostly by increasing humidity levels.

Fire personnel from the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and the Upper Pine River and Fort Lewis Mesa fire protection districts worked through the night, digging containment lines to keep flames from cresting a ridge leading south toward Lightner Creek Canyon.

The Durango Interagency Type III Team was also on the scene.

Fifty responders were fighting the flames this morning, with 20 to 40 reinforcements scheduled to arrive in the afternoon in anticipation of higher winds.

One large helicopter – nicknamed an “air-crane” – was dropping loads of water on the flames today. Rather than a suspended bucket, the chopper uses a snorkel to suction and release water.

“It can suck up 2,000 gallons in 45 seconds into two storage chambers in the belly of the helicopter. It can dump one or both chambers at the same time,” said Bender. “The buckets (on smaller helicopters) contain 100 or 300 gallons.”

The Lightner Creek blaze is one of 23 lightning-sparked wildfires to ignite as a result of thunderstorms that passed through the region Tuesday night, including one near Lake Nighthorse and one northwest of Mesa Verde National Park. The Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center registered more than 4,000 lightning strikes in southwest Colorado over a 24-hour period.

For all the flash, the storms produced only light and sporadic rain. According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, less than half an inch fell on the Durango area in the 48 hours up until 9 a.m. today.

Lightner Creek Canyon residents were watching the flames apprehensively Wednesday afternoon.

Ken Root and his wife, Kay Kunert, sat under a gazebo sipping Budweiser beers about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, after the fire had slowed.

“It’s scary,” Root said. “We’re keeping an eye on it.”

The couple packed two cars with valuables and personal belongings in case they needed to leave.

Lightner Creek is a narrow canyon with thick foliage on both sides of the canyon walls. Most residents had turned on sprinklers to moisten the ground around their homes.

“I hope for everybody who lives up and down the canyon that nobody loses a house,” Root said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Fire officials urged people to be alert in the aftermath of Tuesday night’s thunderstorms. A red flag warning, signifying ideal wildfire ignition and spreading conditions, is in effect until midnight tonight.

“Lightning strikes often smolder for several days and then flare up with warm temperatures and/or high winds,” information officer Pam Wilson said in a news release. “If you spot smoke and believe it is on private land, call 911. If the smoke is on public lands, call Durango Interagency Dispatch at 970-385-1324.”

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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