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Crews battle, contain Sand Creek Fire

Started by a lightning strike, the 20-acre Sand Creek Fire in the Piedra Canyon is considered contained, with crews still working to fully extinguish the blaze.

The fire, ignited by a lightning strike Friday, is burning between Sand Creek and Little Sand Creek, on a steep slope on the south side of Sand Bench, said Scott Wagner, U.S. Forest Service fuels forester and prescribed fire specialist.

A press release from the Pagosa Public Lands Office states that the fire is approximately 14 air miles northwest of Pagosa Springs and about 3.5 miles west along the Piedra River Trail (trail number 596).

The fire was spotted at about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The delayed sighting is common for fires in remote locations, Wagner said.

Late Sunday afternoon, three heavy air tankers, a single-engine air tanker and three helicopters dropped water and fire retardant (slurry) on the fire. Helicopters also shuttled ground resources to the fire.

Ground resources included eight smoke jumpers, several helitack firefighters (hot shot crews) and two 20-person hand crews.

As of Wednesday morning, the fire was contained and ground resources were to continue managing the fire until controlled, which was estimated to happen later Wednesday. The blaze will continue to be monitored from a helicopter stationed in the Durango area until it is considered out.

Smoke from the fire was visible as far south as New Mexico over the weekend, according to the Public Lands Office. Some visitors were evacuated from backcountry trails, but the Piedra River Trail was the only closure caused by the Sand Creek Fire.

The trail was expected to remain closed through Wednesday and will be reopened when fire managers determine the area is safe for foot and horse travel.

Wagner said the trail was closed mostly for security reasons, as air and ground resources worked in the area.

A separate fire, the Elk Creek Fire, was spotted by aircraft supporting the Sand Creek Fire Tuesday afternoon.

Estimated to be 1.5 acres, the Elk Creek Fire is located in the Piedra Drainage, about three miles north of U.S. 160.

Helicopters and crews began working on the Elk Creek Fire late Tuesday afternoon and had a line around it by 9 p.m. Crews returned to the fire Wednesday.

randi@pagosasun.com