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Weekend rain aids firefighters

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

Afternoon and evening precipitation during the weekend helped firefighters battling the West Fork Complex in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests east of Durango.

The weather has helped firefighters work farther around the fire, said Bobby Kitchens, a spokesman with the Type I Incident Management Team. The number of firefighters assigned to the blaze has decreased to about 1,000 from a high of 1,500 as efforts to contain the fire continue to progress, Kitchens said.

Total acreage burned within the complex stood at 110,000 acres with 25 percent containment Sunday. So far, a small pump house is the only building destroyed.

About one-tenth of an inch of rain fell over the complex area Saturday, and meteorologists were expecting scattered thunderstorms would bring one-tenth to one-quarter of an inch of rain to some parts of the fire area Sunday afternoon and evening.

But this weekend may have been the best chance of precipitation until later this week, said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“We’re going to dry out over the next couple of days,” Phillips said. In what he called pre-monsoon weather, a “decent push of moisture” should come into the area later in the week, he said.

Firefighters also worry that too much rain could trigger flooding and mudslides in the burn area.

“The best-case scenario is that monsoons come in and it rains a little bit every day,” Kitchens said.

Firefighters’ priority areas continue to be the areas of the West Fork Fire south of South Fork and the north end of the Papoose Fire, Kitchens said.

Smoke from the fire likely will continue to linger over Durango and other low-lying areas because of a high-pressure system causing downdraft winds, said Troy Kinghorn, another spokesman with the Type I Incident Command Team.

Kinghorn, who received his information from meteorologists with the National Weather Service, said the haze will persist until a cold front moves in to lift the temperature inversion currently trapping smoke in valleys around the fire. That cold front isn’t expected until next week, he said.

“Most areas in all directions are experiencing haze (right now),” he said.

Information about the fires is available at http://westforkfirecomplex.blogspot.com.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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