Weather permitting, officials see end for Lightner Creek Fire later today

A Type 1 helicopter drops water on the Lightner Creek Fire. If weather cooperates, officials anticipate full containment of the fire by 8 p.m. today. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

A Type 1 helicopter drops water on the Lightner Creek Fire. If weather cooperates, officials anticipate full containment of the fire by 8 p.m. today.

Crews made significant headway against the Lightner Creek Fire on Thursday, bringing containment to 40 percent. Barring unfavorable weather conditions, such as high winds or lightning strikes, officials anticipate full containment by 8 p.m. today.

The blaze, three miles west of Durango, held steady around 80 acres for nearly a day before making a brief run Thursday afternoon, reaching an estimated 85 acres.

“At this time, we’re confident,” said Dan Bender, spokesman for La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. “But we’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

No structures have burned.

A pre-evacuation notice for residents north and west of the junction of Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207) and Dry Fork Road (208) was scheduled to expire at 8 p.m. Thursday unless fire behavior changed for the worse.

Fire Information Officer Pam Wilson urged nonresidents to avoid Dry Fork Road for the next few days.

“It gives firefighters one less thing to worry about if there’s an emergency. The road is narrow, and the fire engines are big,” she said.

Personnel from Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and the Upper Pine River and Fort Lewis Mesa fire protection districts have been busy digging containment lines to keep flames from cresting a ridge and creeping south toward Lightner Creek Canyon.

As of Thursday afternoon, 90 responders were fighting flames, with help from two engines, two water tank trucks, one air attack plane and one heavy helicopter.

The chopper – nicknamed an “air-crane” – uses a snorkel, rather than a suspended bucket, to suction and release water over the flames.

“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,” Bender said. “The buckets (on smaller helicopters) contain 100 or 300 gallons.”

The blaze is one of 23 lightning-sparked wildfires to ignite after thunderstorms passed through the region Tuesday night.

Most were small and quickly contained. Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center registered more than 4,000 lightning strikes in Southwest Colorado throughout a 24-hour period.

For all the flash, the storms produced only light and sporadic rain. Less than one-tenth of an inch fell on the Durango area, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Fire officials are urging people to be alert as monsoon season begins and thunderstorms roll in more frequently.

“Lightning strikes often smolder for several days and then flare up with warm temperatures and/or high winds,” 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.”

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