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Fires continue to spare structures

Posted: Tuesday, Jun 25th, 2013

Jumping embers igniting spot fires are a number one concern for the entire West Fork Complex Fire. As the winds pick up on Monday, the Papoose Fire takes a deep breath and wakes up. Courier photos by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

PAPOOSE FIRE — Beneath the fire orange San Juan sunsets, a force of destruction thrives, but has not yet overstepped its bounds.

The nearly 76,000-acre West Fork Complex Fire (WFCF) has turned June into January in South Fork. The town sits still, deserted like the dead of winter, two miles from the fire while those there to protect it watch the smoke lift and become the sky. No one is crossing the street on foot, in an RV or on a 4-wheeler and, if the cloud broke, it would seem like nothing had gone on that was different from any day before. The responder trucks don’t really look out of place; there are just too many waiting to tame the brutal act of nature.

The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team isn’t so still, having made some progress since taking command over the weekend. There are hundreds of teams tackling what has become a disaster of national priority. The National Guard is stationed at checkpoints along Highway 149, the Colorado State Patrol is on active alert and countless fire department insignias whiz past on trucks that look so small next to the forest splotched with curling, constantly moving wisps of what was once a living tree, likely a spruce, lost already to beetle kill and now fueling a wildfire.

“The beetle kill is a challenge,” said TRC Type 2 responder David Inskee, southeast Idaho, during Monday’s media tour. “The direct attack option is not there. It is point protection.”

C130 aircraft are only visible moments before they emerge from the 20,927-acre Papoose Fire, which along with the West Fork and Windy Point fires completes the WFCF. It burns around the canyon that was once home to San Juan City, about 10 miles north of Creede. A team of planes circles the skies, doing what they can to help protect the homes and buildings.

One structure protection method the team is utilizing is sprinkler systems, which are prioritized based on the vegetation around the building, and crews are devoting more than a day’s work to install the units.

The winds blow upwards of 30 miles an hour and in unpredictable fashion only; for it was no mistake they would be back again yesterday, causing the team to follow Red Flag Warning protocol, grounding aircraft. Yesterday, however, there was hope today the winds would settle, allowing team forces to unleash its offense to continue to keep not only structures, but also resources like the Rio Grande Reservoir safe.

“There still has been no impact there,” said Type 2 Operations Branch Director and Alamosa resident Paul Duarte while monitoring the Papoose Fire north of Fern Creek. “The fire is backing away from the reservoir.”

The team is also confident if the fire should head in the direction of the historical mining town, it would slow down because there is not a high quantity of beetle kill spruce to fuel the path.

“There are still fuels, but not extreme fire behavior,” said the team’s Fire Behavior Analyst Tim Foley during Monday night’s briefing.

On the other end of the fire, Russ Long, an operations chief, said during the briefing the team would try to spend more time in the air to help control what is spreading into northern wilderness areas. Area lakes are under heavy surveillance for structural protection and the fire continues to move in the direction of South Fork, but is has not caused any addition threats. 

“We like our chances,” Long said. “At this point in time we don’t have control of this fire.”


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