STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
A number of wildfires continued to burn across Southwest Colorado on Thursday, prompting officials to call in out-of-town aircraft reinforcements and put some homeowners on pre-evacuation notice.
The series of blazes ignited over the past several days, and while they held fairly constant Wednesday night, officials are concerned that high winds expected to kick up this afternoon could fan the flames.
The Vallecito Fire, burning in heavy, dead fuels and dormant Gambel oak and aspen in the Jack Creek drainage about one mile west of the lake, was estimated at 200 to 250 acres at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Upper Pine Fire Protection District held a community meeting Wednesday evening at the outpost near the Schank House. Ann Bond, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service, said 18 homes and several outbuildings in the Lake Vista Estates subdivision had been placed on pre-evacuation notice.
The National Weather Service office in Grand Junction is forecasting continued dry conditions for the next 10 to 12 days. A red-flag warning in effect Wednesday impeded direct air and ground operations at Vallecito, but meteorologist Jim Daniels did not expect a red-flag warning to be issued Thursday because high winds were less widespread.
The biggest danger, said incident commander Dennis Fogel with Durango Helitack, are dead trees, or snags, left from the Missionary Ridge Fire that pose threats to people.
Water tenders and other structural equipment from the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and the Upper Pine and Los Pinos fire protection districts were staging at Doc’s Marina, should the fire move into Lake Vista Estates.
Two heavy tankers from Albuquerque will begin dropping fire retardant on the flames Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Little East Fire, burning on private and Bureau of Land Management Land near the La Plata-Montezuma county line, showed minimal growth overnight. As of 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the burn area was estimated at between 80-100 acres. Afternoon winds could prove problematic, however.
“Localized areas toward Cortez and Montezuma County could see gusts of 25-30 miles per hour,” Daniels said.
According to a news release from La Plata County, crews and aircraft were working to establish more secure fire lines Thursday morning, while temperatures were cooler and winds calmer. By mid-day, 55 firefighters will be on-site. In addition, one local helicopter and two single-engine tankers from Fort Collins will be making water drops on the flames. The county’s Road and Bridge Department is supplying water trucks to help the helicopter refill.
Deputies from the sheriff’s office are monitoring fire behavior and will notify area residents if evacuations are needed.
Motorists are asked to drive carefully as smoke may decrease visibility. Smoke may be visible around La Plata County today.
The Goblin Fire, which last week spread into the West Needles portion of the Weminuche Wilderness, has become active again and is estimated at 600 acres. Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were en route Thursday morning to assess the situation.
Two smaller fires in the vicinity of Durango are being watched but are lower priorities. The Crazy Creek Fire, sparked by lightning on Missionary Ridge, was estimated at 3.5 acres Thursday morning with containment expected in the afternoon. A separate quarter-to-half acre blaze, in the South Hope Creek drainage basin 10 miles northwest of Hermosa, was being monitored by air.
Several other small fires were reported Wednesday around the Dolores area, as well.
“(October) is supposed to be the quiet season for fires,” said Justin Moore, assistant manager at the interagency dispatch, “but this seems like June.”