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Crews quell ground fire, officials say ‘Be prepared’

A fire alongside U.S. 160 west of Pagosa Springs, near Astraddle A Saddle, burned nearly four acres on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 20.

The fire, on the north side of U.S. 160, was reported at 3:53 p.m. and was initially estimated at about two acres in size, said incident spokesman Lt. Sean Curtis of the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office.

A GPS reading on the site later in the day revealed the size to be about 3.95 acres.

Soon after responding to the fire, which was burning up a slope and being pushed by wind, additional fire crews were called in.

“It’s just frightening because it’s going uphill and being blown by wind,” Curtis said at the scene.

Fortunately for crews and nearby residents, the fire remained a ground fire and never reached aerial fuels.

A total of 47 people from the Pagosa Fire Protection District, ACSO, ACSO’s Emergency Operations Management, Los Pinos Fire Protection District, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Patrol and Archuleta County Road and Bridge worked to quell the blaze and direct traffic through the area near the incident.

Highway traffic was held to one lane during the incident and only closed when equipment needed to be moved.

The fire endangered no structures, with the closest building being an outbuilding about 150 yards from the blaze, Curtis said.

Crews left the scene shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, returning Thursday morning to continue mop-up efforts at the site, said Incident Commander Manny Trujillo.

Crews spent three days at the site.

Operations Commander David Montoya said the last check on the fire on Friday revealed no “smokers” of any kind, indicated that crews would check the site Wednesday and anticipated the determination that the fire is out.

Montoya said the cause of the fire will likely end up as undetermined.

Crews, including USFS personnel, worked to determine a cause while crews fought the fire and were unsuccessful, Montoya said. Recent moisture at the site has increased the likelihood that the cause will not be found.

Last week’s fire, along with tornadoes throughout the U.S. and recent natural disasters in Japan and New Zealand, have brought to mind the need to be prepared in the case of an emergency, no matter the location.

While earthquakes and tornadoes may not be the top worries for Pagosa Country residents (though there are fault lines around the area), fire season is potentially just around the corner (usually beginning in mid to late May), and local fire and emergency personnel are predicting an active fire season.

“We’re geared up for a moderately heavy to heavy fire season,” said Pagosa Fire Protection District Chief Ron Thompson.

Recent wet weather may have dampened fire danger in the short term, but Thompson said the long-term prediction remains for a drier-than-average season.

“That’s still our prediction, because that’s what the long-term weather forecast is calling for,” Thompson said Tuesday.

Similarly, Christina Marquart, deputy director of emergency operations for the ACSO’s (Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office’s) Department of Emergency Operations, is predicting an active fire season due to the lack of moisture received during the winter.

To the contrary, the 2011 Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a summer of “nice temps” and “very wet.”

In light of potential fire danger, along with other extreme weather and natural disasters that can occur throughout the year (floods, landslides, avalanches, winter storms, etc.) personnel at the ACSO Department of Emergency Operations and PFPD are urging vigilance and preparation.

“You can’t be too prepared,” Marquart said.

Marquart, along with representatives of other agencies, suggests that residents should be prepared to be without power, running water, stores and medical care for at least 72 hours.

Marquart also suggests that the more rural a residence is, the longer the period of time a resident should prepare to be without utilities and access to goods.

An emergency kit should include provisions for both people and pets and should include water, food, a flash light, batteries, a non-cordless phone, first aid kit, clothing, bedding, tools and special items, such as diapers, medications and copies of important papers and phone numbers.

Additionally, Marquart suggested hygiene needs should be taken into account, as well as preparing games or activities for children.

Marquart also offered the tip that, in an emergency, additional water can be found in water heaters.

Other suggestions for emergency preparedness and disaster kits can be found online at www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov. Additional information can be found through the American Red Cross and the local Emergency Operations Office.

randi@pagosasun.com

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