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West Fork Complex Fire update, June 23, 10 a.m., 70,262 acres, 0 percent containment

West Fork Complex fire perimeter map. Courtesy Colorado Fire Maps.

West Fork Complex fire perimeter map. Courtesy Colorado Fire Maps.

Special Message:  The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team, with Pete Blume as Incident Commander, has been assigned to the east zone of the West Fork Complex.  The Type 1 Team is working in conjunction with the Phoenix National Incident Management Organization (NIMO), with Curtis Heaton as Incident Commander, to manage the three fires that make up the West Fork Complex.  Yesterday the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team spent the day integrating with the NIMO team.  Due to the size and complexity of the complex, it has been divided into two zones with the Continental Divide as the general breaking point.

Current Situation:

Papoose Fire:  The Papoose Fire is the most active of the three fires in the complex.  Today firefighters will focus on evaluating and providing structure protection along the northern perimeter of the fire.  On the north side, the fire has burned into the flat and has crossed the river, but has not crossed Highway 149.  Firefighters working on the Papoose Fire will be staying in a spike camp close to the fire.

East Zone of West Fork Fire: This zone includes the portion of the West Fork Fire that is on the north side of the Continental Divide.  Today firefighters will focus on evaluating and providing structure protection between the West Fork Fire and Highways 149 and 160 in this zone.  Sprinkler systems will be assembled and put in place as a precaution in the event that fire activity increases in the zone.  Firefighters will also work to remove fuels adjacent to structures to provide additional protection.  Areas west of South Fork are being evaluated for natural fire breaks that can be reinforced and used as control line to minimize the chances of the fire reaching the community.   The fire is still estimated to be 4-5 miles from the town of South Fork.  No structure loss has been documented at this time.

West Zone of West Fork Fire:  Activity on the West Fork Fire, south of the Continental Divide, was more active yesterday than it has been all week.  The fire made a run up the backside of Sheep Mountain to the east and is burning above Highway 160.  Firefighters will be working today to catch any spots along the 160 corridor and additional firefighting resources have been brought in to protect private land and structures off of the West Fork Road around Borns Lake.

Windy Pass Fire:  The Windy Pass Fire which is currently burning in an area with less dense vegetation than the other two fires, made a few short runs towards Lane Creek yesterday. Though there has been little growth in Windy Pass Fire, it has the potential to move into the volatile bug-killed vegetation on either the west or east side of the existing perimeter.  Firefighters have been able to hold the Windy Pass Fire within the established indirect containment lines protecting the Wolf Creek Ski Area and additional engines to provide protection for the ski resort will be assigned to the fire today.

Weather:  A Red Flag Warning is in effect today due to low relative humidity, strong winds, and a Haines Index of 6.  The Haines Index measures the stability and dryness of the air over the fire.  A Haines Index of 6 indicates that there is a high potential for extreme fire behavior, intensity, and growth.

Evacuations and Closures:  There are multiple evacuations and pre-evacuations in effect for the fire area and vicinity.   For more information on evacuations please check www.acemergency.org.

There are multiple road and trail closures.  The primary closures are Highway 160 from the chain-up area to South Fork, and Highway 149 between South Fork and Creede from milepost 1 through milepost 22.

Public Briefing:  A briefing for evacuees and affected residents will be held daily at the Red Cross Shelter in Del Norte at 9 am.

Fire Statistics:           

Location:  14.5 miles north/northeast of Pagosa Springs, CO                        Start Date: 06/05/2013

Complex Size:  70,262 acres                                                            Percent Contained: 0%

Windy Pass: 987 acres                                                            Cause:  Lightning

Papoose: 19,413            acres                                                            Total Personnel: 426 + with more arriving

West Fork: 49,862 acres                                                                                               

Resources Include: 3 Type 1 hand crews, 9 Type 2 hand crews, 31 engines, 6 water tenders, and overhead personnel

Air Resources:  3 Type 1 helicopters, 2 Type 2 helicopters, and 4 Type 3 helicopters

Facebook:  The Rocky Mountain IMT has a Facebook page dedicated to thank you’s to the firefighters working on

the fire line.  Visit the page at https://www.facebook.com/RockyMtn.Type1.IMT.PIOs.

Information Boards:  Information is posted at the Pagosa Springs Visitor Information Center.  Information boards are

being constructed and will be going up at Freemons Ranch near Creede, and the Forest Service office in Creede, and at

the Red Cross Shelter in Del Norte.

 

This story was posted on June 23, 2013.
  • bingodingo

    It may be time we examine our Wilderness Forest Fire Fighting policy…So
    lets begin here:

    In the past we quickly extinguished every fire as quick as we could…Result:
    forests grew thick and became succeptable to disease and bug infestations
    ultimately creating unnatural and explosive fire conditions.

    Forest administrators had options to deal with this, the most obvious being to
    thin ( and let burn more naturally) or not to thin…Forest Administrators
    decided not to thin.

    The fire situation in the forest continued to get worse just waiting for
    catastrophe.

    On June 5 a fire starts north of Pagosa and for 8 long days only grows to 25
    acres…meanwhile Forest Administrators once again have two obvious
    options…to put out or let burn.

    Forest Administrators decide to let burn (knowing full well what the
    surrounding fire conditions and weather forcast was.)

    Now, 10 days later we have a 71,000 acre fire burning out of control…The
    damage of which (as by now we know all too well) will resemble several thermonuclear
    hydrogen bombs going off in the middle of the weminuche.

    Now lets examine the consequenses of the above outlined Forest service policy
    to let wilderness fires burn without thinning first…

    1. The fire is threatening to burn many peoples homes and businesses requiring
    10s of millions of dollars worth of government workers/contractors time to try
    and save, not to mention the gazillions of dollars this will cost everyone in
    the area via raises in insurance premiums. (Not to mention, God forbid…
    the lives of these individuals at stake)
    2. It is completely denuding 2 of the most important and ecologically sensitive
    river systems in Colorado, which will result in massive ash filled mudflows
    that will kill off the local trout…including the endangered Rio Grande
    Cutthroat. As well as creating faster melt off conditions lowering critical
    late spring water supply to local farmers.
    3. 10s of thousands of forest creatures: Elk; bears; deer; pikas etc…are at
    this very moment running around in circles up there with their fur on fire
    bleating in pain as puss filled blisters the size of watermelons form all over
    their bodies not to mention their newly born babies.
    4. After the fire any surviving business in the towns of South Fork, Creede,
    and Pagosa Springs will be severely damaged or file bankruptcy as they depend
    solely on fisherman, hikers, and hunters.
    5. Etc..Etc…too many others to think about…

    If you read this far…I will let you come to your own conclusions as to who
    is right or wrong on this issue…

  • Chris Gerlach

    This is no time to be engaging in debate about policy past or future. Let us focus on supporting the Fire fighting efforts and give our sympathy and support to South Fork and Creede and the local residents who have lived here so long. Please keep politics out of this important time of crisis. Thank you SUN for the great coverage.

    • What a Shame

      Support for fire fighting efforts and sympathy for threatened evacuees would not be necessary right now were it not for the negligence (in my view, of the criminal sort) of those who decided not to put this fire out between June 5 and June 13 with air assaults. This would not even be happening right now and it would not have happened last year either. This has to stop; that is if there is any forest left after this. Look ahead to next winter: who will want to ski at Wolf Creek in this devastation, assuming there is a ski area left after this. There goes the winter economy of Pagosa Springs: up in smoke. Air drops are effective without ground support, especially on small fires. Don’t you get that this makes people mad and for very good reasons?

  • bingodingo

    Chris…nice try to disuade from what really needs to be discussed right now (never let a crisis go to waste Chris) The Truth of what is happening right now is very inconvenient for a certain political ideology…what is most inconvenient for you is that I am one of these folks that has been displaced by the fire… this is the 3rd time In less than a dozen years I have been displaced by a fire…I personally lost a business and lived out of my car for 5 months because of these “let it burn” don’t thin the forest policies… so chris, please don’t tell me what to think about right now…thanks for your concern anyway though pal…

    • What a Shame

      My heart goes out to you. Thank you for looking outside your own situation to address the bigger picture at a time like this. You need to be heard and people need to listen.

  • Deke

    I’m sorry, but the idea of “thinning” tens of millions of acres of forest across the West is probably the most insane idea I’ve ever heard. We choose to live out here. Some choose to build their homes in the middle of a forest. We bristle at people who would shoot a bear or mountain lion simply because people chose to build a home in their habitat. The same goes for wildfires. If you want to stop wildfires, stop the lightning. Good luck. I’m not trying to be a prickly a-hole. But for the love of all things holy and unholy, sometimes things are just the way they are because people have made choices that have put themselves into that situation. Do I want South Fork to burn? Hell no. But if it does, I’m not sure there’s any sort of “If only we’d have done this…” reflection that needs to take place. I’ll say it again: It just is what it is! How do you stop pine beetle infestation? How do you stop lightning strikes? There’s no fewer than 300 separate wildfires in the West and the expectation is that the federal government should stop every single one before it gets past an acre? Believe me, I’m to the point of exasperation just like anyone else. But sometimes when you just can’t find a logical answer or solution, it usually means there isn’t one.