In its 22nd day, the West Fork Complex Fire (WFCF) continues to burn, keeping firefighters busy on all fronts and evacuees anxiously awaiting word they can go back home.
It also has drawn Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s Executive Order to declare a disaster emergency, and many others to come forward and offer support.
The Executive Order authorizes the transfer of $3 million from the Disaster Emergency Fund to pay for the fire suppression, response and recovery effort related to the fire since its inception, according to a Wednesday press release.
Incident Commander Pete Blume said during Wednesday’s morning briefing that firefighters continue to have success with point protection in spite of the Papoose Fire’s flare up Tuesday night. There was a considerable amount of activity on the northwest side of the fire that kept day and night teams on the job past 10 p.m. and utilized a large air tanker with the capacity to make 10,000 galloon drops twice.
Overall, the WFCF, comprised of three fires, has burned over 81,000 acres. The West Fork fire alone has torched over 54,000 acres, the Papoose Fire, north of Creede, over 25,000 acres and the Windy Point fire, near the Wolf Creek Ski Area, over 1,300 acres.
With winds settling down, he said the team has had more of an opportunity to understand the fire and has secured a bulldozer line connecting Highways 160 and 149.
“I would much rather see some monsoon moisture, but not having wind is a good thing,” Blume said. “Its (WFCF) perimeter has not changed substantially in the past four or five days.”
He added the forecasted thunderstorms in the coming days could cause problems. There is not a call for rain, but dry lightning that is known to ignite wildfires.One control option the team is considering is bringing the West Fork fire down to Highway 160 to establish a line that doesn’t require sending firefighters into a lethal situation inside the dead spruce forest.
“The dilemma we have here is we don’t want the fire hitting the highway hard because there is a chance it will go over,” Blume said. “If we don’t do something in here, this country is too rough and the fuels are to bad to put people right against the edge of it. We are struggling to figure out how we are going to tie this off.”
Within their struggle lie the answers many that have been forced out of their homes and businesses want, but aren’t going to hear soon. He said there was still no verdict on when Highway 160 will reopen.
“There is a lot of pressure to reopen 160...” Blume said about the economic stress the fire has placed on the community. “It may be a choice that is made, but it is a risk assessment.”
He reiterated that if people are allowed back in, they might be asked to go right back out; that there is no chance of 100 percent safety.
As of press time, no additional evacuations or closures had been announced. Local traffic from Creede is being escorted between Wagon Wheel Gap and Highway 160, and the highway remains closed from the chain-up area to South Fork.
Wednesday’s 9 a.m. media briefing was the last unless the WFCF takes a drastic turn.
Daily community meetings at the Red Cross Shelter in Del Norte will continue at 9 a.m.
business assistance center Friday
Rio Grande and Mineral Counties will be having a Business and Employment Disaster Assistance Center at the Rio Grande County Annex 965 Sixth Street, Del Norte on Friday, June 28, from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Services will be directed towards businesses and employees who are being affected by the fires.
Services/resources will include:
• Department of Labor and Employment/Workforce Center
• Small Business Development Center
• San Luis Valley Development Resources Group/Council of Government
• San Luis Valley Mental Health
• RGC Social Services
• Department of Regulatory Agencies/Division of Insurance
• Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association
• Chambers of Commerce
• USDA Rural Development
• Colorado Rural Housing and Development Corps
• Local financial institutions
information on portable generators
SLVREC has de-energized powerlines serving some members above Creede in conjunction with firefighting efforts on the Papoose Fire, one of the fires associated with the WFCF. Lines will remain off until the fire-fighting team determines it is safe for firefighters.
The fire-fighting team will notify the cooperative when it is safe to restore power. Power will remain out until that time. Members who have cabins or homes in the affected area and who are running portable generators to power critical electric appliances are requested to exercise extreme caution.
Do NOT connect the generator to power an entire home. Instead, plug critical electric items such as freezers and refrigerators directly into the generator.
Setting up the generator to feed an entire home can create a dangerous situation where power could backfeed into lines endangering firefighters and linemen. Please, exercise extreme care with portable generators.
Please be aware the customer service representatives are extremely busy with fire-related calls. Those with non-emergency calls, please postpone calling the cooperative for a few more days.
SLVREC can be reached at 852-3538 or 800-332-7634. Alternatively, member services can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The cooperative is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday; however, calls are accepted 24/7 by live operators.
In conjunction with fire fighting efforts to control the WFCF, SLVREC line crews de-energized the power lines that feed power to some homes or cabins as requested by the fire team working to control the fire. The fire team has since allowed the cooperative to restore power in some areas.
In some cases, power was off for less than three hours. However, the cooperative has learned from some of their members, that main breakers have been shut off, leaving some houses or cabins still without power. There is no way for the co-op to know if these homes have been shut off on the member?s side of the electric meter.
Residents can find out if their homes or cabins were in the area with power outages by checking the list of affected feed lines on www.slvrec.com and going to the West Fork Fire Complex information page via the link in the top of the ?Breaking News? box on the web site home page.
For those whose homes or cabins were affected, do you know if you have power on your side of the meter? Is there a way for you to find out? If you know your power is off, and you want it back on, please call the REC office. Those who have shut their own power off and wish it to remain off, please let REC know that too.
Those who are unsure of the status of the power at their property, please let REC know that as well. The cooperative will check the property for the homeowner.
Please be aware the customer service representatives are extremely busy with fire-related calls.
Those with non-emergency calls, please postpone calling the cooperative for a few more days. SLVREC can be reached at 852-3538 or 800-332-7634. Alternatively, member services can be contacted via email: email@example.com. The cooperative is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday; however, calls are accepted 24/7 by live operators.
Del Norte Shelter hosts 65
With no residents seeking assistance at the Red Cross shelter in Gunnison, the American Red Cross closed the shelter at Gunnison Community School at noon on Wednesday but will continue to provide food, shelter, emotional support and other services for evacuees of the West Fork Fire Complex in Del Norte.
The Red Cross continues to operate a shelter at Del Norte High School, 1055 9th St., Del Norte. Tuesday night, 65 evacuees registered at the shelter. Residents can access food, water, shelter, emotional support and basic health services at these shelters.
Since June 11, the Red Cross has provided shelter, food, emotional support, health services and tens of thousands of recovery supplies to thousands of people in Colorado affected by wildfires. To date, the Red Cross and partners have:
· Opened and operated a total of ten separate shelters in Monument, Colorado Springs, Kiowa, Cañon City, Walsenburg, Rifle, Del Norte and Gunnison. One shelter remains open today.
· Distributed 30,563 bulk items such as shovels, rakes, face masks and gloves
· Served 36,378 meals and snacks provided by community partners such as the Salvation Army and the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado
· Made 3,229 health and mental health contacts with affected residents
· Registered 470 individuals in Safe and Well
· Distributed 1,945 comfort kits containing hygiene items, toothbrushes and other basic essentials
HOW TO HELP:
The Red Cross provides disaster relief to people completely free of charge, and is able to do so through the hard work of volunteers and the generosity of the public. Support Red Cross disaster relief by donating online at redcross.org/Colorado, by calling 1-800-REDCROSS, or by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation via cell phone.
Colorado Red Cross chapters have received an outpouring of support from local residents interested in helping their neighbors through the Red Cross - more than 1,250 individuals have submitted new volunteer applications since the wildfires began.
Due to the large volume of applications, the Red Cross is currently not accepting additional new volunteer applications in Colorado, but may open up recruitment to specific skill sets and geographic areas as unmet needs are identified.