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Health advisory issued for Pagosa Springs

TERRI HOUSE/The Pagosa Sun

Winds push a plume of heavy smoke above the West Fork Fire.

Herald Staff Report

5:35 p.m. – The San Juan Basin Health Department has issued an immediate “health advisory” for Pagosa Springs, Archuleta County and the surrounding area due to the degraded air quality from smoke from the West Fork Fire near Wolf Creek Pass. Liane Jollon, interim executive director of the department, issued the advisory Friday afternoon.

The elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with pre-existing circulatory or respiratory conditions should limit outdoor activity when smoke is visible in the sky, the advisory says.

Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes or a runny nose. For those with heart or lung disease, smoke can make symptoms worse. They may experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath or fatigue.

For more information, visit the health department’s web page on wildfire information: http://sjbhd.org/environmental-health.

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1:30 p.m. Friday – The town of South Fork was ordered to evacuate early Friday as firefighters anticipated another day of active burning on the West Fork Fire, near Wolf Creek Pass.

Fire officials were predicting a third day of extreme fire behavior as a result of hot temperatures, low humidity, strong winds and dead trees.

The fire advanced seven miles in a northeasterly direction Thursday, and it was seven miles southwest of South Fork on Friday, said Penny Bertram, fire information officer.

“They made a decision it was time to evacuate South Fork,” she said. “We’ve got a red flag warning for the third day in a row. They really expect it to make a significant run today.”

Surrounding communities were called in to help with structure protection, she said.

Bertram says she won’t speculate on the likelihood of the town burning, just that it’s at high risk.

An 18-mile stretch of Wolf Creek Pass was closed about 2:30 p.m. Thursday and remained closed Friday afternoon. As of Friday morning, the fire came within a half mile of the highway in some places, Bertram said.

The Windy Pass Fire hasn’t reached Wolf Creek Ski Area, she said. A spot fire occurred to the east of the ski area Thursday, but fire crews were able to extinguish it.

“It’s looking rather calm today, calmer than the West Fork Fire, to say the least,” Bertram said.

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12:50 p.m. Friday – Federal and local firefighters were investigating reports of smoke above Hermosa Cliffs, west of U.S. Highway 550 across from the Glacier Club north of Durango.

Fire officials launched an aircraft to investigate the report, and ground crews were en route from Goulding Creek Trail, said Karola Hanks, fire marshal with the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority.

“We’re working on an air look, and individuals are coming in from the bottom,” she said. “We’re doing quick response on this because we don’t be like everybody else around us.”

Firefighters were unable to locate a fire as of 1:20 p.m.

“We’ll continue to monitor it over the next 24 hours,” Hanks said.

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9:30 a.m. Friday – The town of South Fork has been ordered to evacuate and Colorado Highway 149 has been closed between South Fork and Creede because of major wildfires.

U.S. Highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass remains closed. It was shut down about 2:30 p.m. Thursday because of smoke from two fires near the Continental Divide.

There are no estimated times for reopening the roads, the Colorado Department of Transportation said in an email news release today.

The West Fork Fire, on the northwest side of U.S. Highway 160, is now estimated at more than 29,000 acres, said Ann Bond, public affairs specialist with the San Juan National Forest, in a news release this morning. That’s up from 12,000 acres Thursday morning.

Evacuations remain in place from Wolf Creek Pass to South Fork. Evacuations have also been ordered from South Fork to the Wagon Wheel Gap area.

The Papoose Fire, which was seen Thursday from Durango, is burning near the Rio Grande Reservoir west of Creede and is estimated at 1,600 acres. It is burning in the Little Squaw and Papoose drainages.

Also this morning, Forest Road 520, which goes over Stony Pass, was closed because of threats from the Papoose Fire.

The West Fork Fire continues to move parallel to Highway 160 toward South Fork. Fire officials expect the fire to move at 1 mph today, with South Fork about 6 miles directly in front of the fire.

Orders for heavy aircraft have been placed, but windy conditions may limit their use.

Alternate route over Wolf Creek between Alamosa and Pagosa Springs: U.S. 285 to Colorado Highway 17 (Cumbres/La Manga passes) to U.S. 84 to Pagosa Springs.

Alternate route between Saguache and Durango: Colorado Highway 114 to U.S. 50 to U.S. 550.

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