West Fork Fire closures lifted for Weminuche Wilderness


By Ann Bond

Special to The SUN

As of Monday, Aug. 26, all closures related to the West Fork Fire on the San  Juan National Forest have been rescinded.

This means the portion of the Weminuche Wilderness on the Pagosa Ranger District is now open; however, the public is warned that travel in the  burned area may be hazardous. Conditions on the West Fork Trail, popular for access to Rainbow Hot Springs, are especially unsafe due to standing and downed trees, rolling debris and mud flows.

“We sent in a reconnaissance crew last week in an attempt to assess the extent of the damage, but they had to turn back two and a half miles up the trail because it was basically  impassable,” said Paul Blackman, Pagosa recreation staff.  “We are not recommending that the public attempt to use the West Fork Trail by foot or horseback at this time.”

Although travel into backcountry Wilderness locations always carries with it some risk, the public should carefully weigh the added dangers of falling trees and flash floods  before making the decision to enter these areas. Burned trees are very unstable, and entire trees or sections of trees can fall without warning.  This danger is exacerbated during windy conditions.

In addition, due to the loss of vegetation, rain does not sink into the ground as quickly, and the soil is more erodible. This increases the risk of flash floods and debris  flows during high intensity rain storms. Visitors should avoid narrow canyons during times of possible flash flooding and move up, not out of, canyons during flash floods.

Given the extremely hazardous conditions, the Pagosa Ranger District will defer efforts to clear and repair the trail until next summer, after conditions on the ground have  become less volatile.

For more information, contact the Pagosa Ranger District at 264-2268.