Area fires bring smoke, haze



Video courtesy US Forest Service

By Randi Pierce

Staff Writer

Lightning is the suspected cause of several small fires that are burning or have burned in the area recently, leading to an increase of haze in the area.

While much of the haze that moved into Pagosa Springs and the surrounding area Wednesday morning was from a fire burning on Jicarilla Apache Nation lands, the most visible fire is the Little Devil Fire, burning about 3 miles north of the intersection of U.S. 160 and Colo. 151, approximately 1 mile north of the Devil Creek State Wildlife Area.

Smoke from that fire is visible from U.S. 160 and nearby areas.

The Little Devil Fire is in the San Juan National Forest and, as of Wednesday afternoon, was burning 10 acres, according to a press release. The previous evening (Aug. 18), the fire was at six acres.

According to Brandy Richardson with the Forest Service and a later press release, the fire is burning in a remote and rugged area, on a ridge covered in ponderosa pine and Gambel oak.

A 10-person crew arrived at the fire Tuesday afternoon and built a line around hotspots, and three single-engine air tanker (SEAT) loads of water were dropped on the fire before evening.

The 10-person crew returned to the scene early Wednesday morning, and two 20-person hand crews were ordered, as well as two SEATs and a Type 3 helicopter to continue to actively suppress the fire.

By that afternoon, aircraft had made several slurry drops to begin work on containment lines, as had ground crews.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no values were at risk, no structures were threatened, and no areas, roads or trails were closed.

However, the Pagosa Ranger District of the USFS is urging any recreationists heading to the area to practice situational awareness.

Too, because of the remote nature of the fire, firefighters worked Wednesday to establish safety zones and a medivac clearing to help ensure firefighter safety.

Also contributing to the haze and smoke in the area is the fire burning in northern New Mexico on Jicarilla Apache Nation land.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Jicarilla Chieftain newspaper reported that fire to be 23 acres and 6 percent contained.

That fire is burning in Seguro Canyon, which is northwest of Dulce, N.M., and was originally responded to at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, Archuleta County’s director of emergency management, Thad McKain, reported that the northern New Mexico fire was putting up a lot of smoke and was the likely cause of Wednesday morning’s haze.

Two other, smaller fires were declared out earlier this week, as well.

According to Pagosa Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Randy Larson, a small fire burned less than an acre over the weekend near Selph Propane and A-Affordable Storage, with that fire reported on Friday.

On Sunday afternoon, a fire was reported at Keyah Grande, the KG Fire, with that fire burning about 2.5 acres before being called out Tuesday.

No structures were threatened or damaged by the KG Fire.

Despite the uptick in fires over the last week, Larson said fuel moisture content is still good in the area.

“We just need everybody to be diligent,” he said.

According to the National Weather Service’s forecast Wednesday afternoon, haze is expected to remain in the area through Thursday, with little-to-no chance of moisture over the coming days.

A hazardous weather outlook issued by the same agency early Wednesday morning, a warming trend is “on tap” going into the weekend, with a “hint” of monsoon moisture arriving by Saturday and thunderstorm activity possible.

According to the same outlook, “A stronger push of moisture returns to start the new work week and shower and thunderstorm activity appears to become more widespread.”