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West Fork fires grow; Papoose may intensify

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The West Fork Complex, three lightning-caused fires around Wolf Creek Pass, had consumed 97,827 acres as of Wednesday afternoon.

Containment stands at 7 percent, the online Incident Information System said. Temperatures ranged from 66 to 82 degrees with winds from 5 to 15 mph.

The fires, Papoose, West Fork and Windy Pass, are burning in the Rio Grande and San Juan national forests and private land on both sides of the continental divide.

U.S. Highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass and Colorado Highway 149 are open to general traffic. The Red Cross evacuation center at Del Norte High school closed Monday.

The West Fork Complex is divided into two commands – the Papoose and eastern part of the West Fork and the Windy Pass and western part of the West Fork.

In the Papoose Fire, the blaze is expected to increase in intensity in coming days, particularly in areas with extensive beetle-killed trees. Firefighters will work to confine the northern part of the fire and even out the fire line.

“This afternoon, there was an increase in activity in the Papoose,” said Mark De Gregorio with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team. “It picks up there in the afternoon.”

But north winds pushed the fire back into itself at times, he said.

De Gregorio said he had heard ash from the fire was falling in Pagosa Springs.

In the eastern part of the West Fork, vegetation removed from around homes will be chipped and two miles of fire line will be built.

Firefighters in the west section of the West Fork have structure protection, including Wolf Creek Ski Area, as a high priority. The Windy Pass Fire grew only 1 acre.

Overall, gusty winds and lightning are a concern.

Farther west, San Juan Basin Health Department reminded the public that a health advisory remains in effect for Archuleta County. Elderly people, children, pregnant women and people with pre-existing circulatory or respiratory conditions should limit outdoor activity because of degraded air quality from the fires.

A lightning-caused fire was reported about noon Tuesday near Ironton Park, south of the town of Ouray. Volunteer firefighters and Forest Service crews were able to contain the blaze to about 2 acres. A team remained overnight and through Wednesday to mop up hot spots.

daler@durangoherald.com

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