West Fork fires grow to 92,000 acres

Local outbreaks sparked after lightning strikes

Several fires sent small plumes of smoke into the air in La Plata County on Sunday, but no structures were damaged. Meanwhile, more than 92,000 acres have been consumed by the trio of blazes cumulatively called the West Fork Complex as of early Sunday afternoon.

National Weather Service Forecaster Paul Frisbie said even though isolated areas received periods of heavy rain, the monsoon season has yet to arrive. While the hotter temperatures of recent weeks are gone for awhile, he said daytime temperatures will remain at or slightly above normal for the week.

While the precipitation, which is coming from the north, is welcome and probably helping keep fires down, lightning strikes have started several small fires around Southwest Colorado, with more reported as Sunday afternoon moved into evening.

While the weather service is calling for a 30 percent chance of rain and even snow above 12,000 feet Monday night, Frisbie said, it’s unlikely colder temperatures will meet with moist air at just the right time to actually get snow.

“We’re not likely to see white stuff on the peaks,” he said.

Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch reported firefighters responded to a dozen new reports of smoke Sunday on public lands; all but one was believed to be from lightning strikes.

Units from Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District responded to a fire thought to be the result of an abandoned campfire at a dispersed campsite above May Day in La Plata Canyon. That fire was reported at one-tenth of an acre, and it is under investigation.

Farther to the east, San Juan National Forest and Archuleta County engines and crews responded to the Fawn Gulch Fire in the Pagosa Ranger District. That lightning-caused fire was reported at one-tenth of an acre Sunday afternoon.

To the west, a fire Saturday near Dove Creek on Bureau of Land Management and private property near Dolores County Road P was estimated at 30 acres as of Sunday afternoon, said Ann Bond, a public-affairs specialist with the San Juan National Forest, in a news release. That blaze was being handled by two engines and the San Juan Interagency Hotshots with helicopter support. No structures were reported lost.

At the West Fork Complex north-northeast of Pagosa Springs, the fire was about 2 percent contained as of Sunday morning, incident commanders reported.

A total of more than 1,500 personnel are on the fire lines, with support from a variety of ground and air vehicles, according to the InciWeb website on the blazes Sunday afternoon. The website is maintained by the public information staff members of the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team that is managing the fires.

In the West Fork Complex east zone, behavior moderated Sunday because of cloud cover and higher relative humidity. However, thunderstorms near the fire produced erratic winds that in turn caused periods of increased fire activity.

About two-tenths of an inch of precipitation was recorded Sunday on the eastern flank of the West Fork Complex, and progress is being made toward confinement in areas that have stalled for several days. In the western zone, the fire is creeping and soldering with isolated torching.

U.S. Highway 160 was opened for public travel, and travelers will notice heavy patrols looking for additional outbreaks. The Weminuche Wilderness remains closed.

Colorado Highway 149 is now open between South Fork and Creede without restrictions. However, evacuations remain in effect on the south side of Highway 149 from the western city limits of South Fork west to include Wagon Wheel Estates three miles southeast of Creede, and south from the 4UR Ranch to the Humphreys Lake area.

An evacuation also is in effect for multiple residences south of Highway 149 and north of the Papoose Fire.

Smoke continues to impact Highway 160, and communities to the west of the fire.

rgalin@durangoherald.com.