“We’re working real hard to keep it from going into South Fork, but no promises.”
Those were the words of West Fork Complex Incident Commander Curtis Heaton at Friday night’s public meeting in Pagosa Springs that concerned the trio of fires in the area.
At the meeting, Heaton and other key personnel informed a large audience on the most recent information on the three fires.
The West Fork Fire, Heaton said, was approximately 3 miles from South Fork as of 6 p.m. Friday evening, and crews were working to turn the finger of the fire nearest South Fork away from the town using aircraft dropping retardant lines.
The Papoose fire, the newest of the area’s fires and the largest smoke plume on Friday afternoon, began the day at 1,600 acres, up from 60 acres on Thursday. That fire, Heaton said, is burning near the Rio Grande River and is estimated to be traveling one mile per hour.
“That’s a lot,” Heaton said.
The Windy Pass Fire has been the least active of the three blazes.
But, Heaton said, low relative humidity and high temperatures have led to extreme fire weather, and unprecedented fire growth that the fires’ managers cannot accurately model.
“We don’t have anything big enough for the conditions we’re seeing right now,” Heaton said, referring to fire resources. The fires are burning in areas with dense bug-kill timber with accelerating wind speeds.
Heaton said that, given current weather conditions, there is a low probability of the fire backing toward Pagosa Springs.
A Type 1 team has joined the NIMO team that is currently in place to fight the fires.
Kevin Khung, district manager for the Pagosa Ranger District, San Juan National Forest, announced that, as of tomorrow, all Pagosa Ranger District lands within the Weminuche Wilderness will be closed, including the areas of East Fork and West Fork.
Bruce Spruce Ranch, Khung noted, is still open.
In addition to evacuations announced earlier for South Fork, Heaton said some evacuations are now in effect for Creede. No further information on those evacuations was immediately available.
According to the West Fork Complex’s air quality analyst, smoke conditions in Pagosa Springs are expected to worsen around the middle of next week, with a high pressure system moving in that will keep the smoke from dissipating.
For additional information on air quality, see related update.