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Cat Fire in Archuleta County 40 percent contained

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

The Cat Fire in southwestern Archuleta County didn’t grow much Monday.

“As of 3:30 p.m., it was about 40 percent contained and held pretty steady at 20 acres,” Fire Information Officer Pam Wilson said about the fire that is burning just off County Road 500 on Southern Ute Tribal land. “It’s really a big relief.”

Wilson said the increased humidity was helping.

“Even just a 5 percent rise in the humidity level helps moderate fire activity,” she said. “It sounded like a really quiet day. I’m not aware of any new starts, and I haven’t seen any lightning today.”

The West Fork Complex fires were quieter than expected Monday.

“We had some light precipitation over some areas, which did keep fire activity down,” Fire Information Officer Andy Lyon said. “It didn’t get as warm or dry as we thought it would.”

Several evacuations were lifted Sunday evening, and the estimated size of the fire was downgraded to 109,049 acres as of Monday evening.

“Because things have been calm, they may have had more time to determine the size more accurately,” Lyon said.

The cost of fighting the fires to date is estimated at more than $26.9 million.

Today is predicted to be the hottest, driest day of the week in the fire area, he said, so the fires may be more active.

Today and Wednesday are going to be drier in Durango, too, said Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction Office of the National Weather Service.

“The monsoons so far have been atypical,” he said, because the high-pressure system that helps draw moisture up from the Mexican Plateau has been centered over the Great Plains instead of the Panhandle. “So we haven’t seen those slow-moving thunderstorms capable of dropping significant precipitation in a short amount of time. And we haven’t seen any flooding issues because June was so dry, and the steering winds have stopped the storms from dropping a significant amount on any one place.”

While the Climate Prediction Center is predicting higher than normal temperatures through September, it cannot forecast with any degree of certainty how strong the monsoon season will be during the coming weeks, Larson said.

“It may be a normal monsoon season,” he said. “But we need an above-normal season.”

Monsoons would be an important part of fighting the West Fork Complex, but flash flooding is a real concern, Lyon said.

“This is a huge area in some of the most rugged terrain in Colorado,” he said. “It’s difficult, dangerous and, in some places, impossible to fight. More moisture in the atmosphere makes it safer, and we’d like to see steady but not heavy rains.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

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