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Wildfires ride Valley's rim

Posted: Thursday, Jun 20th, 2013

Firefighters from Mosca-Hooper and Alamosa quickly contained a small roadside fire that ignited Wednesday afternoon on Highway 150 just north of the turnoff to the Zapata subdivision. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Photo by Rudy Herndon

Courier editor

VALLEY — Although huge plumes of smoke from the West Fork Complex were visible in the San Luis Valley above the San Juan Mountains on Wednesday, official fire reports held no cause for alarm for Valley residents.

“There is no immediate threat to Highway 160, Wolf Creek Ski Area, South Fork, or Creede,” the Colorado Office of Emergency Management and Archuleta County Emergency Information networks stated mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

They reported activity picked up on the West Fork and Windy Pass Fires, now known as the West Fork Complex, on Wednesday afternoon, and large smoke plumes could be seen from communities as far as 75 miles away.

“Prevailing winds from the southwest are pushing the West Fork Fire northward up the West Fork drainage and to the northeast up the Beaver Creek drainage,” the emergency officials reported. They added the fire had not yet crossed the Continental Divide but was burning less than a mile from the Rio Grande National Forest.

Prevailing winds from the southwest pushed the West Fork Fire northward up the West Fork drainage and to the northeast up the Beaver Creek drainage, Archuleta County emergency officials stated.

A small column was also beginning to build on the Windy Pass Fire; however, it had not moved out of the ‘bowl” it was sitting in. There was also a small spot fire in the Lane Creek drainage.

This activity was anticipated due to the lack of cloud cover, warmer temperatures, and lower relative humidity.

The West Fork Complex consists of two wildfires, West Fork and Windy Pass, that are burning on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass. Both fires are burning in steep, rugged terrain with large amounts of beetle-killed spruce making it difficult and unsafe for firefighters to mount a direct attack. The fires were combined into a complex on Sunday, June 16.

The West Fork Fire, now encompassing more than nearly 4,000 acres, began on June 5 with a lightning strike about a half mile up the West Fork Trail on the north side of Highway 160 primarily in the Weminuche Wilderness. Firefighters worked to prevent the fire from spreading to cabins at Borns Lake.

The Windy Pass Fire also began with a lightning strike about a week later on June13. It is south of Wolf Creek Ski Area and east of Treasure Falls in a deep bowl of large, standing dead spruce. The Windy Pass Fire had grown to just under 200 acres by Wednesday, June 19.

A red flag warning was issued in that area for Wednesday and Thursday. Dry and windy conditions are predicted through Saturday.

Although fires on the west side of Wolf Creek caused no immediate danger to the San Luis Valley on Wednesday, public informational meetings are scheduled in South Fork and Creede this week. A meeting is planned tonight, June 20, at 7 p.m. in the South Fork Community Center with another Friday morning, June 21, at 11 a.m. in the Creede Community Center. Another meeting is scheduled Friday evening at 7 in the community center in Pagosa Springs.

The sole forest fire in the San Luis Valley is the Ox Cart fire southeast of Poncha Pass, which is continuing with low fire behavior according to SLV Public Lands Center Public Affairs Specialist Mike Blakeman. He said ground truthing on Wednesday afternoon confirmed two small smoke plumes coming from that fire, which is being allowed to burn naturally, as it threatens no structures or essential resources. It encompasses less than 30 acres.

Lightning also caused that fire, which struck up on June 6.

Another fire was reported on the Sand Dunes road on Wednesday but was extinguished by local firefighters before it was allowed to spread.

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