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Crews quell East Fork blaze

A wildland fire in the area of the East Fork drainage is believed to be human-caused, though the exact cause is still under investigation.

The 27-acre fire was located next to East Fork Road at the Forest Service gate, about a half mile from U.S. 160 and was reported Monday afternoon.

By 9 p.m., the fire had grown to about 25 acres, but abated during the night.

By Tuesday, firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service (Pagosa Ranger District and Columbine Ranger District), the Bureau of Land Management, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, Pagosa Fire Protection District, Los Pinos Fire Protection District, the Juniper Valley Correctional Crew and a helicopter crew were on site, working to contain the fire.

Full containment was achieved Tuesday afternoon.

As of press time Wednesday, the area was receiving light precipitation and crews were working on mop-up operations, said Pagosa Ranger District Fire Management Officer Steve Hentschel.

“Right now, we’re not having any issues out there. They’ve got it mopped up two chains in,” Hentschel said, explaining that a chain is 66 feet.

Hentschel said a 20-person hand crew and another crew were expected to be back at the site today, Thursday.

Crews will continue to keep an eye on the fire until it is officially considered out, Hentschel said, adding that when heat is no longer picked up, he will likely still wait a few days before considering the fire out.

How often the fire site is checked is dependent on the weather, Hentschel said.

A Red Flag Warning was in effect through Wednesday evening, but wind was expected to calm by today.

The fire burned primarily on the ground, burning pine needles, leaf litter and oak brush, Anthony Garcia of the USFS indicated Monday afternoon.

The closest structures to the fire were about a quarter mile away, Hentschel said, but were not considered in danger.

Kevin Khung, district ranger, viewed the fire as a positive thing, though it was unfortunately caused by a human.

“This fire did some good things ... fire’s good and bad,” Khung said, noting that the fire, “helped to reduce fuel loading in that area” and served to take out some white fir, which Khung said is a good thing.

The East Fork area is anticipated to be reopened next week, Khung said.

The fire, though, points out the heightened fire danger in the area.

Khung said he is continuing to see warmer-than-average temperatures, with snowpack at roughly 50 percent of what it should be at this time.

While speaking on another topic at the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners’ agenda review Tuesday afternoon, Drew Petersen, director of emergency management, said the fire danger is being monitored and should decrease as the flora in the area greens, but Khung added Wednesday that a green-up could be a temporary solution if low precipitation levels and warm temperatures continue.

Slight chances for rain and snow are forecasted through the weekend for Pagosa Springs.

As of press time Wednesday, the Pagosa Ranger District listed the fire danger as moderate.

“I’m a little concerned with where we are,” Khung said — a point which was proven Wednesday afternoon.

While crews on the East Fork fire were scaled back Wednesday, a fire located approximately 17 miles down County Road 500 (Trujillo Road) from Pagosa Springs utilized some of those resources.

The fire was reportedly caused by a downed power line early Wednesday afternoon and was burning near structures.

No additional information was available by press time.

randi@pagosasun.com

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