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Hopeful residents return to South Fork

Posted: Wednesday, Jul 3rd, 2013

SOUTH FORK – Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton welcomed the crowd gathered at the South Fork Community Center Saturday, June 29 with “Welcome back South Fork!” This was greeted with cheers from those assembled.

He continued with news that there had been a lightning strike up on Cottonwood.

“It caught a tree on fire but we got it out,” said Norton. “There was a really good response time on it.”

Incident Command Manager Russ Long thanked everyone on behalf of the firefighters for their cooperation and said everyone in the community had been most helpful.

“Mother Nature’s bucket drop today sure helped us out,” said Long.

The fire on the east side of Elk Mountain stayed at the top said Long.

“It is creeping through the aspens and dead spruce near the top," said Long. “As it moves down into conifer and aspen, we will approach it with retardant and bucket drops from the air when possible.”

There are firefighters on site around the area to attack any spot fires.

“If it comes down off the hill, we are going to try to keep it to one area at a time,” said Long. “When it presents itself we can bring it down to the road. Worst case scenario is it comes down to the river.”

Long said the Papoose Fire is burning 90 percent dead spruce.

“When the wind starts to blow 40 to 50 miles per hour, it explodes,” said Long.

There are 500 firefighters working the Papoose Fire in three shifts around the clock to make sure each team gets the rest they need, and they can be ready for wherever the fire presents itself.

Work on the Rio Grande reservoir continues with help from the state so there is no delay. They are concerned about the fire crossing over Squaw Creek. “We would like to prevent it from crossing Squaw Creek,” said Long. “We want to protect the watershed so when it rains it won’t be compromised.”

Wind Saturday blew spot fires to Hermit Ridge where there is aspen and not bug-killed trees. Crews are working the area with retardant and bucket drops when possible.

“Today was a really good day to make some forward progress,” said Long. “There are still some dry spots and dusty roads though and we are not letting out guard down.”

The Red Cross announced the shelter in Del Norte will be closing on Monday and the last meal will be Sunday dinner.

The Salvation Army is looking into setting up a kitchen in South Fork to help those who need it for a few days, but do not want to adversely affect the restaurants in the area. They welcome input from the community on what the needs are in the area regarding food. They can provide for people who have had their food spoil due to lack of power for refrigerators and will play it by ear as far as how long they will stay in the Community Center area.

Norton wanted to reiterate to everyone that even though people have been allowed to return to their homes, they are still on pre-evacuation notice and should be ready to leave when notified.

“Pay attention to the updates at the briefings,” said Norton.

The South Fork Fourth of July celebrations have been canceled.

“Creede is fully open July Fourth,” said Norton. “The only thing cancelled there are the concessions and of course, the fireworks.”

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