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Papoose Fire leaves Durango in haze

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Smoke from the Papoose Fire is expected to linger over Durango through the weekend, officials said Thursday.

The Papoose Fire, one of the three fires comprising the West Fork Complex, grew by 17 square miles since Wednesday, aided by the fuel of beetle-killed spruce and old logging slash.

As of Thursday, the West Fork Complex fires were burning a total of 160 square miles in the forests between the cities of Creede, South Fork and Pagosa Springs according to the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team. The fire is about 16 percent contained.

The fire burned through a sulfur-pit mine, but fire-management spokesman Bobby Kitchens said people were far enough away not to be affected by dangerous fumes caused by burning sulfur.

“We didn’t have anybody there so that’s not really a problem for us,” he said.

Firefighters were able to defend some structures flanking the flare-up, Kitchens said, which is a main objective in fighting the blaze in such steep, rugged terrain.

“We always report percent containment, and that’s always a thing that everybody hangs their hat on, but in this case this is not our goal,” he said. “Our goal is to protect life and property, and we’ve been pretty successful in that.”

Kitchens said some communities around the fire, such as Spar City on the east end of the Papoose Fire and some areas around Humphrey’s Lake near the West Fork Fire, remain evacuated.

People from the town of South Fork were able to return to their homes after being evacuated.

Kitchens said even once the flames die down and folks return home, smoke will be visible, and the threat will continue.

“It’s not over,” he said

While the fire is east of Pagosa Springs, smoke has been drifting into Durango as the result of a shifting wind patterns.

Ash was reported in Pagosa Springs.

“The winds are coming out of the north,” said Pam Wilson, a public information officer for the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center.

“Normally, our winds come out of the south, southwest. So we’re getting all the smoke,” she said. “I think we might be in for this for a couple of days.”

The Papoose Fire is south of Colorado Highway 149 and extends east to Red Mountain Ranch in Spar City, an unincorporated area of Mineral County. The fire stretches west to the Rio Grande Reservoir.

Firefighters are avoiding areas where falling trees created an unsafe situation. Firefighters worked Thursday to even out the fire line in the meadows near Highway 149 and get the area under control.

Wilson reported only one new fire start Wednesday – in the Chris Mountain area west of Pagosa Springs. It was contained Wednesday night. The cause of the fire is unknown.”

Isolated thunderstorms with winds from the northwest are in the forecast for the West Fork Complex, but monsoon weather is not expected to arrive until the end of next week, which is average timing for southern Colorado.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. jhaug@durangoherald.com.

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