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Forest Service officials provide Little Sand Fire update

The plumes of smoke rising from the Little Sand Fire northwest of Pagosa Springs are no longer a common afternoon sight.

According to Pagosa District Ranger Kevin Khung, on July 2, the fire had burned 24,900 acres. Since July 4, the area has received an average total of three inches of rain.

“We are monitoring. Every other day crews are going up,” Khung said, speaking to the Piedra River Work Group at a meeting this week.

In addition to those doing the monitoring work, there are crews in the area repairing fire lines.

As of Friday, July 13, there were 12 “smokes” spotted in the Little Sand burn area. Most of the smokes are remnants of the fire, however, Khung clarified that two smokes in the southwest corner of the area were from recent lightning strikes.

As to the possible aftereffects the fire will have on the forest, so far, Khung said, it does not appear there will be much of a problem.

“The fire severity was really low,” Khung said. Where the fire severity was the highest, Khung explained, was in the upper reaches of the Little Sand area. The land is steep so, as far as burned area emergency rehabilitation is concerned, there is not much that can be done.

San Juan Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles, also in attendance at the meeting, said that in regard to the values of the Piedra Watershed, the fire either preserved or enhanced those values.

Currently, Stiles and Khung said the cost of the fire was $7.5 million, but anticipated it would reach $8 million by the time management of the area is complete. Stiles said that while the Little Sand Fire wasn’t intended to treat the Piedra area, it has an almost entirely positive effect on the forest.

“It’s a real good price tag for the amount of benefit,” Stiles said.

For the past six or so years, the area around the fire had been marked for treatment with prescribed burns.

Stiles said, the fire did make an impact on outfitters’ business but, he added, hopefully, in one to two years, the benefits of the fire to the forest will pay them back.

In regard to erosion, Khung said that there has been some ash in the Piedra River, but said the monsoonal rains have worked to flush it out. Stiles added that if there was going to be any fish kill from the ash, it would have happened by this time.

Stiles also commended the Hinsdale and Archuleta County commissioners for their joint efforts in working on the fire.

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