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Fire activity slows in Wolf Creek blazes

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

Two fires continued to burn northeast of Pagosa Springs in the Wolf Creek area, with a total area burned estimated to be around 3,280 acres.

“We did have a good day today,” Pam Wilson, spokeswoman with Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center, said Tuesday evening. “We had less fire activity than expected because we had pretty good cloud cover. It moved out this evening, and we looked over from west Pagosa and saw more of a column of smoke than we’ve seen all day.”

Firefighters have three priorities – to keep the fire north of U.S. Highway 160, to protect Wolf Creek Ski Area, and to keep the fire from crossing the Continental Divide into the Rio Grande National Forest.

“They were out scouting for contingency breaks primarily to the west and north of the fire where it could head toward 160,” Wilson said, adding that they are identifying areas where meadows, logging roads and rock outcrops can be joined to create the break lines. “Over the next few days, we’ll be developing a long-term strategy to keep it from spotting over to the Rio Grande National Forest, which will be difficult because there are areas where vegetation grows up and over the divide.”

While firefighters are managing the two fires as a complex, the West Fork Fire grew from about 2,500 acres to 3,116 acres moving up the Wolf Creek and Beaver Creek drainages. It is located primarily in the Weminuche Wilderness, where it’s burning in an area with extensive dead spruce stands and downed timber.

“From what they’ve seen, the standing, dead trees have been pretty well consumed by the fire,” Wilson said. “But the dead trees on the ground don’t seem to be burning all the way through.”

The fire also is burning at a high elevation.

“In some areas, it’s burning at 11,000 feet of elevation,” Wilson said, adding that timberline ranges from 10,500 to 11,500 feet. “It’s burning high, really high.”

The Windy Pass Fire, burning in a bowl about three miles south of Wolf Creek Ski Area, grew in size from 129 acres to 164 acres Tuesday.

Firefighters are planning how to protect the ski area if the fire burns up out of the bowl, Wilson said, including where to station tankers, pumps and hoses.

“It helps to have a little time to plan all that,” Wilson said.

The National Weather Service has issued a red-flag warning beginning at noon today, and in effect until 10 p.m. Thursday because of high temperatures, gusty wind, low relative humidity and dry fuels.

“It’s going to keep being hotter, drier, windier,” Wilson said, “and there’s no precipitation in the forecast for at least the next five days.”

The National Incident Management Organization has arrived and will be taking over fire management today. Two public meetings about the fires are in the planning stages, one Thursday night in South Fork and one Friday night in Pagosa Springs. Times and places should be announced today, Wilson said.

No new trail closures were announced Tuesday. Forest Service campgrounds at West Fork and East Fork and private campgrounds in the West Fork area are still open.

“On the bright side, we haven’t had as much dry lightning as in some years,” Wilson said, “or at least, not yet.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

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