Firefighters to safeguard ski area at Wolf Creek

Windy Creek Fire burning in dead spruce causes worry

George Thomas of the Blackfeet Nation from Browning, Mont., scouts a contingency line to help control the Windy Pass Fire near Wolf Creek Pass. Thomas is part of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, a Native American crew from Browning that just came from the Royal Gorge Fire. Enlarge photo

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

George Thomas of the Blackfeet Nation from Browning, Mont., scouts a contingency line to help control the Windy Pass Fire near Wolf Creek Pass. Thomas is part of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, a Native American crew from Browning that just came from the Royal Gorge Fire.

Fire danger continues to be high today as firefighters battle two wildfires northeast of Pagosa Springs.

“Conditions were not as bad Monday as they had been projected,” said Pam Wilson, spokeswoman with the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center. “We did not see the fire spread we were expecting.”

An infrared flight today will determine the growth of the fires, but Wilson said that much of the action Monday was smaller fires around the perimeter of both fires that burned toward each other.

The Windy Pass Fire, 129 acres in size, was burning in a deep bowl filled with large, standing, dead spruce trees about three miles south of Wolf Creek Ski Area. Fire officials set up structure protection Monday at the ski area in the event the fire jumps out of the bowl and makes a run toward the ski area, Wilson said.

“Monday was going to be a lot of contingency planning – strategy planning on the Windy Pass Fire,” Wilson said, because of that concern.

Additional firefighters were assigned to the blaze Monday, she said, but because it is burning in a sea of dead trees, it was unsafe to put firefighters too close.

On Monday, fire officials closed Lobo Overlook, a scenic overlook atop Wolf Creek Pass, and a number of trails or sections of trails, including a 25-mile section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, from Elwood Pass to its junction with Middle Fork Trail. Other closures included West Fork, also known as Rainbow Hot Springs, Windy Pass, Treasure Mountain and Beaver Creek trails; Falls Creek and Wolf Creek roads; and West Fork Road from the West Fork Campground to the northern end of the road.

“It’s just one of those fires that has a lot of potential to grow fast ... and we want to make sure no people are in harm’s way,” Wilson said.

Firefighters also were battling the West Fork Fire, which grew about 800 acres Sunday, to just more than 2,500 acres. The fire was burning at high elevation about 14 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs. The majority of the fire is burning within the Weminuche Wilderness. It made a run Sunday to the northeast, about two miles west of Beaver Meadows, a large grassy area, in the wilderness. The fire also moved into the Spring Creek drainage on the eastern edge of the fire.

The fire eventually will reach areas that are above timberline, but firefighters hoped to keep it west of the Continental Divide Trail and away from the Rio Grande National Forest. They were focusing efforts on the south side to protect private property and U.S. Highway 160, Wilson said.

Firefighters hope to get more containment today before a red-flag warning goes into effect at noon Wednesday and continues until 10 p.m. Thursday. The National Weather Service is issuing the warning because of extremely dry fuels and a forecast with winds up to 40 mph and a relative humidity of 7 to 12 percent.

About 220 people are assigned to the two fires, and transition to the National Incident Management Organization is expected to take place later today. Total cost for the two fires was estimated at $411,000 as of Monday evening.

Closer to Durango, the Lewis Mesa Fire, which broke out Sunday on Ute Mountain Ute land near the Montezuma-La Plata county line, was declared 100 percent contained as of 10 p.m. Sunday. It was 12 acres in size. Crews did mop-up work Monday, meaning they were be dousing any remaining hot spots.

shane@durangoherald.com

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