Log In

Reset Password
News Education Local News Nation & World New Mexico

Firefighters aided by cool, cloudy weather in battle against Plumtaw Fire near Pagosa Springs

Blaze was 721 acres with 33% containment as of Monday
A firefighter works on the Plumtaw Fire about 7 miles north of Pagosa Spring that has burned more than 700 acres. The fire was 33% contained Monday at 721 acres. Cool weather has helped firefighters battle the blaze as they aim to control the fire before a return to warm and dry weather later this week. (Courtesy of federal incident commend team)

The Plumtaw Fire northwest of Pagosa Springs reached 33% containment Monday as cool and cloudy weather aided firefighting crews.

The fire has now consumed 721 acres since starting May 17, but hundreds of firefighters prevented the fire from spreading farther over the weekend.

The Plumtaw Fire north of Pagosa Springs after one day of growth. The fire was 33% contained Monday at 721 acres. Cool weather has helped firefighters battle the blaze as they aim to control the fire before a return to warm and dry weather later this week. (Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, San Juan National Forest)

“The weather over the last couple of days and then today has been beneficial to moderate fire behavior, allowing firefighters to make progress on containment and work closer to the fire’s edge,” said Rachael Hohl, a spokeswoman for the Plumtaw Fire.

On Monday, crews and fire engines were working to extinguish hot spots after laying down more than 6,000 feet of hoses and constructing containment lines around the fire. With much of the fire surrounded, firefighters have now shifted to patrolling and “mop-up status,” according to a Monday news release.

They continue to prioritize protecting the Lost Valley of the San Juans subdivision, the Fourmile Creek watershed and other critical infrastructure.

More than 200 firefighters, 25 engines, four helicopters and other machinery were tackling the blaze on Monday under the command of a Complex Incident Management Team that took over firefighting efforts on Friday.

“They’re looking for smokes, they’re gridding the areas and just trying to find every identifiable source of heat, typically around the perimeter but also around that northeast corner of the fire,” said Maribeth Pecotte, another spokeswoman for the Plumtaw Fire.

“Once we have some kind of control features around (the fire), then it’s really focusing on mopping up at least 100 feet in from the edge of that fire,” she said.

Firefighters have estimated the fire will be completely contained by July 15, according to InciWeb, a federal interagency emergency notification system used for wildfires. However, with the recent progress of firefighting crews, the fire will likely be contained before then, Pecotte said.

Cloudy, cool and humid weather Sunday and Monday helped firefighters seize greater control of the fire after it grew about 600 acres in the first day.

The Plumtaw Fire was first reported about 1 p.m. May 17 in the San Juan National Forest 7 miles north of Pagosa Springs. The fire produced thick smoke that could be seen from Durango as it burned through ponderosa pine, Gambel oak and mixed conifer forest.

The fire spread quickly, forcing the evacuation of the Lost Valley of the San Juans, a small subdivision in Mineral County. It got within 150 feet of Fourmile Road (Forest Service Road 645), but firefighting crews with support from planes and helicopters were able to push back the blaze.

Evacuations for Lost Valley of the San Juans were still in place as of Monday afternoon, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Relatively steep terrain, heavy fuel loads and hot, dry and windy weather combined to allow the fire to take off last week, Pecotte said.

“All those created that quick-growing fire that we saw in the first couple of days,” she said. “Now that we have some cloud cover over it, we’ve gotten a little bit of higher humidities, all of that causes the fire behavior to really reduce.”

Though firefighters have taken advantage of the weather to encircle the fire, a return to hot and dry weather later this week could jeopardize some of their work.

Pecotte said the area would return to critical fire weather conditions on Friday, so crews and other firefighting resources will remain on the fire to ensure that it will not pick up again if conditions worsen.

“We’re really trying to make sure that we feel this fire is set and it’s not going to get up and run on us when the weather changes,” she said. “In the short term, we want to use the resources that we have to the best capability that we have.”


Reader Comments