SOUTH FORK—The West Fork Fire Complex continues to burn in the forested areas surrounding Creede and South Fork having now covered more than 110,000 acres.
Crews continue to celebrate their success in having protected structures throughout the fire, but have now confirmed that a pump house was lost to the flames early in the fire. There have been no additional structures lost to the fire.
Public Information Officer Andy Lyon with the Type 1 Incident Management Team said that “containment has never been the goal on this fire,” but it is now 19 percent contained. Earlier reports had stated the fire had been 25 percent contained, but that was measured without including acreage from the west zone, Pagosa side, of the fire.
Containment does not mean that the fire is out, or that it is under control. Lyon said containment is a line around the fire created by hand crews or through intentionally burning areas around the fire. During extreme fire conditions, flames can reach beyond the containment lines. Lyon said, “there are no guarantees in extreme conditions.” Fortunately, the fire conditions seen over the last few days indicate that the existing containment lines will work.
Though the fire has not spread over significant acreage over the past few days, stormy conditions have created small, new fires caused by lightening strikes. Lightning struck a tree in the South Fork area on Monday causing a small fire that was quickly extinguished. Others have been ignited on the Pagosa Springs side.
Despite those new fires, rain has helped to settle the complex. Lyon believes, “things are looking good.” He credits the firefighters with great work on protecting homes, businesses and the dam at the Rio Grande Reservoir. Now, crews are hopeful for monsoonal moisture to make a stronger impact on the fire.
With additional rain comes the possibility of flooding in the burned areas. Lyon suggests that people pay attention to the weather and be aware of their surroundings. Areas in the forest and wilderness have been severely burned including plants, which would have normally held the soil in place. Lyon said just 2/10 of an inch of rain can cause ash flows and floods as were seen recently in Manitou Springs.
On Tuesday, Lyon said, crews were looking at a dry day with only a slight possibility of storms in the afternoon. They will continue to prioritize firefighting at the Rio Grande Reservoir damn, especially around the Squaw Creek drainage. Crews are also mopping up around the fire. They continue to clean up around the fire where fire lines have been created. Personnel will walk along the edge of the fire making sure everything is “cold out.”
Structure protection has been completed in areas surrounding Creede, including those along Deep Creek Road. Beetle-killed trees surround many of those structures. It is a priority to keep the fire from reaching the area, but the fire has spread through large areas in a short time before. If the fire were to reach the area, crews may not be able to do structure protection in time.
The fire fighting effort will continue to try to ensure that it does not spread to those areas, but Lyon said, “The potential is still there.” He encourages people to take measures to mitigate the fire danger on their property, even once this fire has gone out.
Near South Fork the fire has not moved in days and crews were optimistic to find the roads and ground were wet on Tuesday morning. Lyon said “rain has really helped on that end of the fire.”
Earlier predictions have said that the fire may not be completely extinguished until snow falls in the area. Lyon said people should remember the fire has burned a very large area in rugged terrain, and there is “a lot of fuel and a lot of places for fire to hide.” Lyon used the Fern Creek Fire as an example. That fire survived the winter and “popped up,” in the spring. He said crews are hopeful the monsoon rains will put the fire out, but it is possible it will linger in places.
As of Monday, July 8 the fire has grown to 110,405 acres and is 19 percent contained.
For more information on the fire including updated maps and pictures visit the complex blog at westforkfirecomplex.blogspot.com or http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3436.