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Big rain allows Burro Fire teams to prepare for new week

‘They are doing what firefighters do ... cleaning up gear and enjoying the break’

Crews battling the Burro Fire took a break from their usual firefighting work on Sunday after a storm dumped an inch of rain in the Bear Creek area.

“They are doing what firefighters do, sharpening their saws, cleaning up gear and enjoying the break,” said Andy Lyon, public information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

No flight to map the fire was conducted on Saturday night because of cloud cover. The size of the fire was unchanged at 3,715 acres, and containment remained at 12 percent.

Fire behavior on the Burro and 416 fires was expected to be limited on Sunday, with little or no growth. The probability of ignition was estimated to be less than 10 percent.

On Saturday, crews benefited from .2 inch of rain, and on Sunday, about an inch. The rain, which fell hardest after midnight Saturday continued until about 8 a.m. Sunday, was about double the “wetting rain” threshold of a half-inch for timber in a dense tree canopy.

Still, Lyon warned that residents should not become complacent or overly optimistic; hot, dry weather is expected to return this week, bringing life to the fire.

“When we get a rain, it’s OK to breathe a sigh of relief, but we will again be in a dangerous situation,” he said.

He added that he hoped residents would use the weekend’s window of precipitation to do some home mitigation work.

“The next one may not stay on the mountain,” he said.

High temperatures through Thursday were expected to be in the low to mid-60s, with lows in the low to mid-40s, according to incident meteorologist Royce Fontenot.

The Haines Index, which measures the potential for dry, unstable air to contribute to wildfires, was expected to rise throughout the week. After the rain on Sunday, it was at 3; last week during substantial growth of the fire, it was at 6. A Haines Index of 6 means a high potential for an existing fire to become large or exhibit erratic fire behavior, 5 means medium potential, 4 means low potential, and anything less than 4 means very low potential.

On Saturday, crews beat the overnight storm and finished bulldozing more than 6 miles of containment lines in the key northwestern and southwestern sectors of the fire. On Sunday, the bulldozed roads were muddy and difficult, and crews were “resting in place,” Lyon said.

Sunday’s action plan included efforts to keep the fire south and east of Colorado Highway 145, and north of Forest Road 350 near Windy Gap and the West Mancos Trail. Tree fellers, skidders and chippers were assigned to reinforce lines and remove flammable fuels along the completed bulldozer line in the northeast sector of the fire.

The incident command team’s two-day fire forecast called for limited fire spread to the northeast and south-southeast, increasing within three days.

The fire lay down overnight Friday but continued to burn slowly in the Bear Creek drainage area. Smoke was minimal, said public information officer Donnie Davis.

The fire was at 3,715 acres on Saturday, up from 3,484 acres on Friday.

The fire’s growth on Friday was attributed to high winds related to Hurricane Bud, and the fire continued to creep within the valleys and ridges.

Hurricane Bud also brought rain.

A flash flood watch remained in place until midnight Saturday, with up to an inch of rain forecast for the mountains and a half-inch for the valleys. High temperatures were expected to be in the mid-60s. Scattered showers were expected to continue through Sunday afternoon, and warmer, drier weather was expected to return on Monday.

Bulldozer crews focused their efforts Saturday on the fire’s west side to clear a line southward near the junction of Forest Road 561 and the Gold Run Trailhead.

Crews also extended a bulldozer line that runs northwest roughly paralleling Forest Road 561, west of the more intense flareups at Little Bear Trail.

With the bulldozed lines complete, firefighters will clean up fire lines and berms of downed timber and other fuels that could jeopardize the lines if the fire reached them, Lyon said. Then, as conditions improve, crews would ignite back-burns to further secure the line and attain containment for the area.

The cost of the Burro Fire was at $1.1 million as of Saturday, Lyons said. He noted that removable timber may be salvaged and sold.

Burro Fire forest closures (PDF)

Burro Fire ops, June 17 (PDF)

At a glance

The Burro Fire, named for a nearby mountain, started June 8 and burns 5 miles up the Bear Creek drainage east of Dolores.

Size of fire:

3,715 acres, with 12 percent containment as of Sunday morning (no new infrared flight). The fire is expected to burn for weeks. Containment is projected for July 15.

What’s next:

Create secure containment lines on the west and south sides of the fire to keep it from Colorado Highway 145 and the Haycamp Mesa and Transfer Park areas. A bulldozer has cleared a line along with hand crews and is preparing for back-burns. Firefighters were scouting for containment opportunities along the north and west sides of the fire.

Closures:

The San Juan National Forest is closed to recreation; Mancos State Park is partially closed; Lone Dome and Fish Creek state wildlife areas are closed.

Firefighters:

Managed by a Type 1 crew in Dolores along with the larger 416 Fire north of Durango. A total of 152 personnel are fighting the fire at the scene and from the command center in Dolores.

Weather:

Cloudy, with light rain on Saturday; chance of rain Sunday. Winds 5-15 mph.

Cost:

$1.1 million as of June 16.

The Journal

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