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Needles Fire near Purgatory Resort’s Lift 2 at 80% containment

Firefighters, aided by helicopters, work to complete fire lines on Sunday
About 20 firefighters completed and secured fire lines around the Needles Fire on Sunday. The blaze broke out Wednesday and has been contained to 6 acres near Lift 2 at Purgatory Resort, north of Durango.

Some 20 firefighters worked to complete and secure fire lines and to began mop up operations Sunday around the 6-acre Needles Fire, burning near Lift 2 of Purgatory Resort.

The wildfire was listed at 80% contained Sunday morning, and Esther Godson, spokeswoman with the San Juan National Forest, said full containment is expected Monday.

“There’s been no growth since the initial attack. Operations have been going really well. Even though there hasn’t been any significant relative humidity recovery overnight, they’ve still been able to make progress just using the tenders to supply water,” Godson said on Sunday.

On Sunday, crews made progress further securing the fire. They also worked to extinguish a few remaining spot fires and to improve lines on the cold edge of the fire ahead of afternoon winds, she said.

Godson said everyone should continue to avoid the area to ensure safe fire operations.

Two helicopters made bucket drops on Sunday. And two single-engine, fixed-wing air tankers stationed at the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker Base at Durango-La Plata County Airport were available as well.

One of the helicopters battling the blaze is a Type 1 heavy-lift helicopter. The other, a Type 2 helicopter, is smaller.

“It’s a spotty burn, so there’s numerous spot fires within the burn area,” she said.

On Sunday, five engines and two water tenders were assigned to the fire.

The fire was still putting up some smoke Sunday morning.

On Saturday, a private, recreational drone was flying in the area, which delayed air operations, Godson said. The operator of the drone was not identified.

“Drones fly the same altitude as our firefighting aircraft. And they’re really small and hard to see. And they don’t communicate with our aircraft. So it does stop all air suppression if there’s a drone in the air,” Godson said.

The Federal Aviation Administration website noted unauthorized operators of drones that interfere with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response efforts could face civil penalties that exceed $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.

The cause of the wildfire has 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.

On Wednesday, the day the blaze started, the 10-hour moisture reading for grasses showed a 2% moisture level,

Stage 1 fire restrictions are in place in the San Juan National Forest.

The fire restrictions 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.

Godson also asked drivers not to pull over to the side of the U.S. Highway 550 to take photographs of aerial firefighting operations because it creates traffic hazards.


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