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Gov. visits, 160 reopening possible

Posted: Friday, Jun 28th, 2013

Three single engine air tankers that are fighting wildfires across southern Colorado began to fly in and out of the San Luis Valley Regional Airport on Thursday afternoon. It takes the tanker operators just a matter of minutes to restock the planes with fire retardant, according to Chris Mora, the airport’s operations manager and aircraft rescue firefighter. Although it is hard to see in the top photo, a red retardant stain lines the underbelly of the aircraft. Photo by Rudy Herndon.

DEL NORTE — Gov. Hickenlooper told West Fork Complex Fire (WFCF) evacuees and area residents they are not alone on a surprise Thursday morning visit to the Del Norte Red Cross Shelter.

“The whole state is behind you,” he said. “Hang in there.”

Speaking to a crowd of roughly 200 people, the Gov. said the eyes of Colorado were watching and that after another summer of fires, the state needs to unite and understand what it means to live with fire.

He also encouraged the community to not only support firefighters, but also the many other responders on the scene including law enforcement, medical resources and the pilots flying the tankers.

“My hat goes off to all the responders at all levels,” he said.

Although the WFCF surpassed 83,000 acres this week, a June 27 Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) press release announced the potential reopening of Highway 160 for this weekend, and incident reports stated the Wolf Creek Ski Area is in significantly less danger.

The multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional incident command team is working towards a possible opening of the pass on Saturday, June 29, the CDOT press release said. The opening is dependent upon three main events:  the local fire evacuation orders must be lifted prior to the highway opening; the comprehensive traffic control plan details need to be finalized for safe escort of motorists; and the fire behavior must remain moderate.

CDOT encourages travelers to check www.cotrip.org before making any travel plans. If traveling, however, the alternate route between Alamosa and Pagosa Springs using Highways 285 and 17 going over La Manga Pass is open.

Another Red Flag Warning due to thunderstorms kept aircrafts out of the sky for part of the day, according to the incident report. Lightning and gusty winds were the primary concerns.

The Papoose Fire remained active throughout Wednesday night, according to the incident report. Firefighters worked through the night reinforcing hand lines and protecting structures as the fire continued to push into Crooked Creek and towards the Rio Grande dam. Along Squaw Creek, firefighters used firing operations to remove vegetation in front of the fire in an effort to protect the dam and structures. Air operations and bucket work continued in several areas.

On the northeast side, near Workman Creek, the fire has worked its way past the structures along Highway 149, and as of yesterday, those structures are secure. At press time, there was no known structure loss.

The northeast flank of the of the eastern part of West Fork Fire is the most active, burning near Elk Mountain, according to the incident report. Structure protection is in place along Highways 149 and 160. Sprinklers have been set up near structures and will be used in the event that the fire pushes to the east. Firefighters continue to work around Lake Humphreys and Metroz Lake to protect structures as the fire burns into the area.

The west zone of the West Fork Fire is the portion of the fire burning south of the continental divide and was most active on Thursday, according to the incident report. On Wednesday, firefighters used helicopters with water buckets to squelch spots above Borns Lake and a heavy helicopter was staged in South Fork for assistance yesterday.

There continues to be isolated fires in that area that are resistant to suppression efforts because of the beetle killed spruce and the extreme rugged and steep terrain, according to the incident report. On Thursday, crews lightly thinned vegetation around the Bruce Spruce Resort.

Also on Thursday, the National Area Command (ACT) 3 Team joined the WFCF fight. The ACT 3 Team, stationed in Monte Vista, is the delegated authority for management and will assist and provide service to the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team.

In addition, during the past week, six members of the Honolulu Fire Department have been shadowing members of the WFCF incident management team, according to the incident report. They are particularly interested in the management of long-term incidents since the majority of the incidents they deal with in Hawaii last only a day or two.

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