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Rain, wind a mixed blessing

By Robert Galin Herald staff writer

Fires burning in the West Fork Complex grew to 91,000 acres Saturday. Cooler temperatures and about a quarter-inch of precipitation and high humidity helped dampen some fire growth, said Laura McConnell, public information officer. But the thunderstorms moving through the area are a “double-edge sword” because they bring higher winds, she said.

It was those strong winds that helped push the Papoose Fire late in the week, she said.

The National Weather Service is predicting about a 30 percent chance of precipitation for today and Monday, including both Durango and the fire zone, said forecaster Paul Frisbie.

Isolated thunderstorms in the mountain could be either wet or dry, Frisbie said. On Saturday, Durango received about a tenth of an inch of rain, and the coming storms at the beginning of the week are likely to be similar, he said.

He also said that forecasts for the area’s monsoon season in July look a “fringe above normal” for precipitation, which could help rein in some of the fire potential.

Firefighters have been getting some help from air drops, but aircraft couldn’t fly Friday because of high winds, McConnell said. In addition, there are some areas where the canopy is so dense, the fire retardant doesn’t reach the ground, which means fire can still go through those areas, she said.

There is still no containment on the fires, McConnell said.

“Containment is going to take some significant moisture” to dampen potential fuels, she said.

Most residents of South Fork were allowed to return to their homes Friday, but other areas nearby remain under evacuation orders, according to the fire incident command. The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team had 14 engines and three hand crews staffing both fires through the night Friday into Saturday.

Weather forced cancellation of the infrared flight that provides the command team with the most current imagery of the fire perimeter.

Friday night, firefighters continued to provide structure protection near the Rio Grande Reservoir, Crooked Creek and Trout Creek on the north half of the fire. There is still no known structure loss.

On Saturday, firefighters focused on the areas of the fire where structures could be threatened. They will also begin to evaluate and prepare structures east of the Papoose Fire, along Highway 149, in case the fire continues to move to the east.

Incident command said firefighters continue to focus on areas where the eastern part of the West Fork Fire is most active and structures could be affected. These areas include Lake Humphreys, Metroz Lake and along Highway 149 near Elk Mountain. Crews worked to tie together existing fuel breaks, such as meadows and roads, in an effort to diminish fire behavior.

East of Highway 149, firefighters continue to evaluate and prepare structures in the event that the fire crosses the highway. Incident command said Google Earth is being used to create an application that will allow firefighters to quickly identify the location of structures in that area.

The Federal Aviation Administration has installed a portable tower at Durango- La Plata County Airport because of the volume of aircraft flying in the area in support of the fires.

Structure protection near the Born Lake cabins and Bruce Spruce Resort remained a prime objective for the west zone of the West Fork fire, which is burning south of the Continental Divide. Crews laid hose and a sprinkler system in the West Fork Campground.

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