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Valley no longer spared from fire

Posted: Friday, Jun 21st, 2013

The West Fork fire turns the sky orange in South Fork. The town was evacuated Friday morning. Courier photo by Keith R. Cerny

FRIDAY REPORT: The town of South Fork is under mandatory evacuation at this time. All residents were to evacuate by 10 a.m. on Friday. SH 149 southbound was closed between South Fork-Creede. US 160 remains closed over Wolf Creek Pass. No estimated time for opening. For fire information see ‪http://www.acemergency.org or call 970-731-2745. Many fire resources from across the state are currently heading to and arriving in the Town of South Fork.

VALLEY — San Luis Valley residents and guests evacuated campsites and more were told to prepare to evacuate on a moment’s notice as the West Fork Fire Complex breached the Continental Divide and entered the Valley on Thursday.

The West Fork Complex Fire, the combination of the West Fork and Windy Pass Fires, both caused by lightning on the Pagosa Springs side of Wolf Creek Pass, is now on the Rio Grande National Forest on the east side of Wolf Creek. The fire has grown to more than 12,700 acres.

The Windy Pass Fire, begun by lightning on June 13 south of Wolf Creek Ski Area, moved to within one-fourth mile of the closest infrastructure at the Wolf Creek Ski Area. Firefighters continue to work with the Wolf Creek Ski Area to protect structures there.

Highway 160 at Wolf Creek Pass was closed down to the chain-up areas on both sides, and remains closed today.

Big Meadows Campground was closed and evacuated on Thursday, as was the Tucker Ponds Campground. Forest Roads 410 into Big Meadows and 430 from Big Meadows to Hunters Lake have been closed. The East Fork Road was also closed beyond the East Fork Campground.

Also evacuated on Thursday were Lake Humphreys and 4UR areas on the north side of the Weminuche Wilderness, about six miles south of Wagon Wheel Gap. The Metroz Lake area is also under evacuation notice.

There is a mandatory evacuation in place now from the top of Wolf Creek Pass to the city limits of South Fork.

On pre-evacuation notice — to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice — are Park Creek, Wolf Creek Ranch, Fun Valley, Elk Creek, Masonic Park, Trout Creek and River Bend. Residents in the town of South Fork are also on notice.

The Mineral County Sherriff has issued pre-evacuation orders to residents and visitors on the West Fork Road as well as private landowners in the East Fork drainage area on the south side of Highway 160.

Those who are camping or living in those areas should gather important documents, pets and medications in the event evacuation becomes necessary. Residents will be notified by a sheriff’s deputy if they need to evacuate.

An evacuation shelter is set up at the Del Norte High School. In addition, the Ski Hi Complex in Monte Vista is available for RV’s and large animals.

A public meeting was held last night in South Fork, and the meeting scheduled for today, June 21, in the Creede Community Center was POSTPONED. A meeting is still scheduled at 7 p.m. tonight in the Pagosa Springs Community Center.

For more information see www.acemergency.org and www.inciweb.org

In the northern end of the Valley, two new fires were reported on Thursday, in addition to the Ox Cart Fire that has been burning in a natural manner since it began with a lightning strike on June 6. The Ox Cart Fire size is about 28 acres.

One of the new fires is the Trickle Mountain Fire caused by lightning about 14 miles northwest of Saguache. It is estimated at 100-150 acres and is clearly visible from Highway 114. Drift smoke may be visible in Saguache Creek valley and the town of Saguache. Active fire suppression efforts are ongoing.

The other new fire is the Sheep Creek Fire 20 miles northwest of Saguache. Its cause is yet undetermined, and it encompasses an estimated 10-15 acres. The fire is visible from Highway 114, with smoke possibly visible in Saguache Creek valley and the town of Saguache. Active fire suppression efforts are ongoing with 10 smoke jumpers en-route on Thursday according to SLV Public Lands Center Public Affairs Specialist Mike Blakeman.

No structures were threatened by the Saguache area fires on Thursday.

A more serious fire is raging on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Walsenburg. The East Peak Fire in Huerfano County grew to an estimated 9,000 acres by Thursday evening with mandatory evacuations east of the town of La Veta to Interstate 25 and south of Walsenburg to the Las Animas County line, an area encompassing about 20 homes. More than 170 Boy Scouts were also safely evacuated from a scout camp in the fire zone.

The town of Walsenburg was under pre-evacuation status as of Thursday night, as was an area south of the town of Aguilar to the city limits of Trinidad and east to I-25.

The East Peak Fire had destroyed eight or nine structures by Thursday evening and was zero-percent contained.

A community meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. today, Friday at the La Veta Fairgrounds.

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