By Chris Mannara
and Randi Pierce
A fire located 21 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs is still burning slowly, according to a Wednesday morning email from the San Juan National Forest (SJNF).
The Sand Creek Fire was started by lightning on June 15 in the Piedra Special Management Area, according to the email.
As of Wednesday, the size of the fire is estimated at 71 acres, the SJNF email explains.
Dry lightning is possible today, leading to fire danger being considered extreme now, meaning any ignition has the potential to create more challenges for fire crews, according to the SJNF.
“With the rugged terrain and hazards posed by thousands of standing dead trees (snags), fire managers have not found many options for effective fire lines close to the current perimeter,” the email reads, adding that the threat to any structures or communities is very low at this time.
As of Wednesday morning, a Type 2 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire, the email explains.
The management team is staging at Cloman Park and the park is closed to the public during this time.
The email also notes for the general public to watch out for any additional fire traffic on Piedra Road and U.S. 160.
Incident Commander Brad Pietruszka is quoted in the email as saying, “We appreciate the support of the community and the Pagosa Ranger District, and we especially appreciate the good discussions we have had about how to manage the risk this fire poses to our firefighters.”
Smoke from the fire is visible to the north from U.S. 160 between Pagosa Springs and Bayfield. The SJNF urges citizens to not report the smoke.
The portion of the SJNF near the Sand Creek Fire is now closed following a closure order signed by Acting Forest Supervisor Steven Hattenbach on June 23.
That closure prohibits “Going in or being upon all NFS lands within the area east of the Coldwater Trail (NFST 597) excluding the Coldwater Trail itself, south to its intersection with the Coldwater Stock Trail (NFST 598) excluding the Coldwater Stock Trail itself, north of the Coldwater Stock Trail east to its intersection with the Piedra River Trail (NFST 596) excluding the Piedra River Trail itself, north of the Piedra River Trail east to its intersection with the Lower Weminuche Trail (NFST 595) excluding the Lower Weminuche Trail itself, west of the Lower Weminuche Trail north to its intersection with the Little Sand Creek Trail (NFST 591) excluding the Little Sand Creek Trail itself, west of the Little Sand Creek Trail north to its intersection of the Mosca Road (NFSR 631), and south of the Mosca Road west to its intersection with the Coldwater Trail (NFST 597).”
It also prohibits being on the following roads and trails:
• Mosca Road (NFSR 631).
• Sand Creek Trail (NFST 593) south of the Mosca Road (NFSR 631) to its intersection with the Piedra River Trail (NFST 596).
• North Ridge Trail (NFST 594).
The order exempts persons with a Forest Service permit specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or omission, as well as any federal, state or local law enforcement officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force engaged in the performance of an official duty.
Violating the order, it states, “are punishable as a Class B misdemeanor, by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than six (6) months, or both.”