West Fork Fire Complex eases, personnel reduced


Staff Writer

The number of fire personnel assigned to the West Fork Fire Complex is dropping daily, including the elimination of the west zone management team tonight at 8 p.m.

From July 4 to July 10, the acreage for the complex grew a total of 2,463 acres — a slowing of growth compared to the first month the fires burned. Containment on the complex is reported at 19 percent.

As of Wednesday morning, the acreage for the complex was listed at 109,100 acres. Within that complex, the West Fork Fire was listed at 58,576 acres, the Windy Pass Fire was listed at 1,417 acres, and the Papoose Fire was listed at 49,107 acres.

And now, as of 8 p.m. tonight, the Central Coast Interagency Management Team 7 operating on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass will assume command of the entire complex, following the completion of the west zone management team’s time on the fire — the Eastern Great Basin Incident Management Team 1 that has been based out of Pagosa Springs.

Fire officials met Wednesday to discuss the support that will remain on the west side of the fires, but no decisions were available by presstime.

The transfer and consolidation of command is part of an ongoing easing of response to the slowed growth of the fires.

On Wednesday, 708 personnel were assigned to the complex — less than half of what was assigned on June 28, when the evacuation order was lifted for South Fork. That day, 1,561 personnel were assigned to the fires.

The Windy Pass Fire has held at 1,417 acres since July 1, while the acreage for the West Fork Fire has been revised downward over the last week, from almost 60,000 acres on July 5 to 58,576 acres on July 9 and 10.

Many mandatory evacuations have been lifted, but, as of Wednesday, they remained in effect for Rio Grande Reservoir (Forest Road 520) and the Wintz Property.

Other areas remain in pre-evacuation status. For current evacuation status, contact your local county sheriff.

But despite the slowing, fire danger still exists, as does the chance for fire growth.

Wednesday’s update on the fires stated that the blazes still contain hot spots, and winds make for chances for isolated fire activity.

Additional moisture may be on its way, though.

According to Wednesday’s fire weather forecast for the region, subtropical moisture is expected to start moving into the area, increasing the chances for rain showers and storms.

The forecast also notes that wetting rains will become common, but that gusty, erratic winds can be expected near any showers or thunderstorms.

The complex fires are three of a number experienced so far this summer from lightning, with several more reported following dry storms that have visited the area over the last several weeks.

Cat Fire

One of the newest of those lightning-caused fires is the Cat Fire.

The Cat Fire was discovered on Southern Ute lands mid afternoon on Sunday, July 7, and was burning just off County Road 500 (Trujillo Road) in Archuleta County.

The fire was initially estimated at 20 acres, with no growth reported, though Drew Petersen, Archuleta County director of emergency management, said the fire showed strong growth potential, helping to prompt the county to join other area agencies in instituting Stage 2 fire restrictions (see related story).

Several resources, including two single engine air tankers, one heavy helicopter, one Type 2 crew, and five to seven engines initially responded to the blaze, with additional resources from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, U.S. Forest Service, Archuleta County, one or two fire departments, an addition Type 2 crew and a hot shot crew called in.

By Tuesday morning, crews were reporting 60 percent containment on the fire, and the fire was expected to be fully contained by Tuesday afternoon.

To report a fire on public lands, contact the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center at 385-1324 or call 911.