Firefighters responded Tuesday afternoon to a rapidly growing wildfire west of downtown Durango that required heavy air support throughout the afternoon and into the evening.
The Perins Peak Fire began around 4:45 p.m. with a dark column of smoke that was highly visible from downtown Durango. It quickly grew from 10 acres to 71 acres, burning on both Bureau of Land Management land and Colorado Parks and Wildlife state land near the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area.
Mapping on Tuesday evening showed the fire at 105 acres, said Lorena Williams, a spokeswoman for Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch.
No structures had burned as of Tuesday night, said Ted Holteen, spokesman for La Plata County.
The response from the Durango Fire Protection District, U.S. Forest Service and BLM was swift.
DFPD was overwhelmed by calls when the fire first began, forcing DFPD Fire Marshal Karola Hanks to ask that callers stop reporting the fire and leave the line open to only emergencies.
Air resources were diverted from the Plumtaw Fire north of Pagosa Springs to battle the blaze, said Hal Doughty, DFPD chief.
Four large air tankers rotated throughout the afternoon and into the evening releasing slurry on the fire. Two helicopters also responded, as did a Type 3 firefighting team, which was the same team that responded to the Plumtaw Fire last week, Williams said.
The firefighting was conducted entirely by air resources during the afternoon before operations were suspended at nightfall. As they battled the fire, officials asked that any drones stay grounded so air support could conduct their operations.
Firefighters were still trying to assess the fire as the response shifted from DFPD to a federal team. They had yet to reach the fire on the ground as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Williams said.
However, officials have closed trail access to Overend Mountain Park, Twin Buttes and Perins State Wildlife Area, according to Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch’s Facebook page.
La Plata County issued pre-evacuation orders for county roads 206 and 208 and the Dry Fork and Rock Ridge subdivisions, orders that were still in place Tuesday evening.
No evacuation orders had been announced as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A National Weather Service red flag warning was in effect for Durango because of “gusty winds, low humidity and dry fuels” when the fire first began.
Weather stations in west Durango near the intersection of U.S. Highway 160 and Camino del Rio reported light northern winds at 3 mph with 7 mph gusts Tuesday afternoon, said Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
At nightfall, air support ceased and firefighting transitioned to planning Wednesday’s response, Williams said.
DFPD announced on Twitter, that those living in the Durango area could expect the smoke to settle overnight.
Throughout the afternoon, fire officials expressed optimism that the quick response could gain control of the fire.
Firefighters believe the blaze is located in a draw surrounded by ridges, Hanks said.
“If that’s the case, then that gives us a chance, especially with aircraft, of making an impact,” she said.
Holteen also said initial reports suggested the location could help firefighters gain some control without the fire spreading much farther.
“We’re remaining cautiously optimistic,” he said.