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Needles Fire near Purgatory Resort 65% contained

Response interrupted Friday by unapproved drone
A wildfire, dubbed “The Needles Fire,” broke out about 3 p.m. Wednesday near Purgatory Resort. Fire crews reached 65% containment on the fire as of Saturday.

Fire crews reached 65% containment on the Needles Fire near Purgatory Resort as of Saturday.

The Needles Fire broke out Wednesday afternoon in 3 to 5 acres of mixed conifer near Lift 2 at Purgatory. With the help of helicopters, air tankers and ground support, crews have been able to hold the fire at 6 acres with some spot fires. Conditions, however, remain dry and warm, said Esther Godson, spokeswoman for the San Juan National Forest.

“It is really dry out still. We’re still in Stage 1 fire restrictions,” Godson said. “The fact that we have a fire at almost 10,000 feet speaks to how dry it is right now.”

Air response operations were temporarily delayed Friday because a drone was flying in the area.

“That causes us to have to shut down all aircraft operations,” Godson said.

Responders were unable to find the drone operator. Wildfires are a “no drone zone,” and if anyone sees a drone in the area of a wildfire, they should report it to the sheriff’s department, she said.

Wednesday, multiple air tankers and more than 20 firefighters from Durango and Bayfield fire districts and the Forest Service responded to the blaze.

While air tankers were no longer needed Thursday, helicopter bucket drops and additional fire suppression modules, each made up of 10 firefighters, were assigned to the fire. The helicopter and ground crew response continued into Saturday morning.

“Today and even yesterday the smoke production was really limited,” Godson said. “They’re making a lot of progress on securing the area and doing a mop up (on spot fires).”

The cause of the wildfire had not been determined and likely won’t be until an investigation is complete, Godson said.

It hasn’t rained in Southwest Colorado since early September, leaving fuels in the San Juan National Forest dry and fire-prone.

The 10-hour moisture reading for grasses showed a 2% moisture level as the fire started Wednesday, “which is nothing,” Godson said. Relative humidity isn’t recovering at night.

“Usually, you get that moisture at night when it cools down, and right now they’re just not having that luck to help them out, either,” she said.

The Stage 1 fire restrictions in the San Juan National Forest ban any fires other than fires contained to developed recreation sites that have established cement or metal fire pits. Open blazes are banned.

The fire restrictions also ban smoking except in buildings or vehicles. Also, anyone using a chain saw must have a spark arrestor.

“As everyone enjoys the weather, really we want the public to keep in mind fire restrictions and follow prevention tips,” Godson said.

smullane@durangoherald.com



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