Quartz Ridge, Bear Creek fires among several burning in area


Quartz Ridge Fire/SUN photo Terri House

By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

A number of fires are burning in the area, including two large fires burning on the Pagosa Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest (SJNF).

Both of the large fires are under the command of the San Juan Type 3 Incident Management Team, an Aug. 7 press release from the SJNF states, though a national incident command team has been ordered to take over command of both fires on Saturday, Aug. 12, to provide additional capacity and oversight.

Other fires in the region have put up smoke visible from Pagosa Springs, included multiple fires in New Mexico.

On Wednesday morning, Archuleta County announced that Cloman Park is closed indefinitely and is being used as the base camp for firefighters working on the Quartz Ridge and Bear Creek fires.

“Please avoid the area as there will be heavy traffic in and out of the park, along Cloman Blvd and Piedra RD (CR 600),” the county’s announcement states.

A smoke outlook for the Quartz Ridge and Bear Creek fires is available at https://outlooks.wildlandfiresmoke.net/outlook/933fc4e4.

Additional wildfire smoke information is available at https://fire.airnow.gov/.

The SJNF also notes wildfire smoke may affect your health. For more information, go to https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/wood-smoke-and-health.

Quartz Ridge Fire

The Quartz Ridge Fire, burning approximately 3 miles into the South San Juan Wilderness and 13 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs, is a lightning-caused fire that was discovered on Aug. 5.

A Wednesday morning update on the fire lists it at 1,133 acres with no containment.

According to the Aug. 9 update, fire managers are continuing to develop plans for when the fire reaches terrain more favorable for engagement.

“Firefighters are unable to directly engage due to very steep terrain, its remote location, and firefighter risk associated with working in standing dead and down trees,” the update explains. “Aviation assets are ineffective if ground resources are not in place to utilize water and retardant, so only an aerial supervision aircraft will be used today for planning and reconnaissance. The fire area in the South San Juan Wilderness is extremely steep and heavily loaded with dead timber both standing and down; this contributes to more intense fire behavior and elevates risk to firefighters and aviation.”

The Aug. 7 press release notes the fire is expected to remain in a “very remote location of the South San Juan Wilderness.”

The report notes Quartz Meadows Road (Forest Service Road 685), Quartz Ridge Trail and Quartz Creek Trail are closed.

Bear Creek Fire

The Bear Creek Fire is located 23 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs and 2.5 miles west of the Weminuche Valley. It was discovered on Aug. 1.

An Aug. 9 update lists the lightning-caused fire at 283 acres with no containment. 

Like the Quartz Ridge Fire, the update notes fire managers continue to develop plans for when the fire reaches terrain more favorable for engagement.

An Aug. 7 update explains direct fire-suppression efforts occurred the first two operational shifts, but firefighters disengaged due to increased fire behavior and the presence of dead standing trees.

The Aug. 9 update notes firefighters have been unable to directly engage due to the “dangerous loading of dead timber both standing and down.”

“Firefighters are prepared for when the fire backs down to the Weminuche Valley, providing an anchor point for them to begin suppression operations,” the Aug. 9 update states. “Structure protection operations are underway and will continue today. Crews will monitor the fire overnight.”

The update notes there are no pre-evacuation or evacuation orders at this time.

The Little Sand Trail from Mosca Road, Shaw Creek Trail and Falls Creek Trail are closed, it notes.

Dry Lake Fire

The SJNF issued the final update on the Dry Lake Fire on Aug. 7.

That update notes that the 1,372-acre fire is burning in the First Notch area of the Columbine Ranger District.

It was listed at 47 percent containment.

“Firefighters are continuing to mop up and secure the fireline,” the update states. “Pockets of vegetation inside the fireline will continue to smolder and burn, though fire activity and smoke production will decrease through the week.”

The fire transitioned from the SJNF Type 3 Incident Management Team back to a local Type 4 team Monday, it notes. 

“The indirect fire suppression tactics used by fire managers has resulted in the successful thinning of overgrown oak brush and grass growing in the understory of the Ponderosa Pine forest cover. Benefits of this strategy include reducing hazardous fuels, encouraging native plant growth, increasing species diversity, and enriching wildlife forage,” it states.

The update adds the unmanned aerial system (UAS), or drone, “will continue to provide critical aerial imagery for firefighters. The UAS platform is equipped with an infrared camera that can detect sources of heat on the ground below. Firefighters repeatedly utilize the UAS to patrol the fire containment lines and detect any sources of heat outside of the established perimeter.”

The public is strongly advised to avoid First Notch Trail and First Notch Connector Trail due to dangerous conditions, with the update explaining, “Lingering smoke and fire-weakened trees are present along the length of these trails traveling through the Dry Lake Fire.”

Lake Fire

The lightning-caused Lake Fire is burning on the west side of Navajo Lake Dam in New Mexico and is on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bureau of Reclamation. It started Aug. 2. 

According to an Aug. 9 update from the New Mexico State Forestry Division, the fire is 73 acres and is at 90 percent containment.

“Fire managers continue to implement a full suppression strategy,” the update states. 

West Fork Fire

The lightning-caused West Fork Fire is located in San Juan County, N.M., northwest of the Navajo Dam and approximately 6 miles south of the state line.

According to the Aug. 9 update from the New Mexico State Forestry Division, the fire, which started Aug. 7, is 42 acres with 25 percent containment.

The update notes there are no evacuations or road closures, but the fire is in the vicinity of oil and gas well pads. 

Members of the public are asked to avoid the West Fork Fire area. 

The update further notes smoke is visible from Arboles and Pagosa Springs. 

American Mesa Fire

The American Mesa Fire, is located on the Jicarilla Ranger District of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. It is southwest of Dulce, N.M.

It is listed as beginning on Aug. 8 and being caused by lightning.

“The American Mesa fire is burning in pinyon-juniper woodlands and, as of this morning, fire crews have made excellent progress in holding the fire at 756 acres, with 25% containment,” the update from the New Mexico State Forestry Division states.


Bear Creek Fire courtesy Nicole Kleckner Hoover