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Mineral County: Disaster declared

Posted: Friday, Jun 28th, 2013

Mineral County: Disaster declared


CREEDE—Mineral County was declared a local disaster area Thursday, June 27, due to concerns expressed by Sheriff Fred Hosselkus.

On Thursday, June 27, Hosselkus asked for an emergency declaration, because fire and smoke were posing an imminent threat to county residents and visitors. It was signed by Mineral County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) Vice Chair Ramona Weber.

It will be in effect for a period of no more than seven days, but may be extended with the consent of the majority of the BOCC.

The Papoose Fire, southwest of Creede, made a significant run to the north Thursday afternoon, growing from approximately 2,000 acres to more than 11,000 acres. It is burning near the Road Canyon Reservoir and 30-Mile Campground, while threatening subdivisions in the area.

An incident command post has been set up on Highway 149 and additional resources including air tankers, hotshot crews and a strike team of engines are being sent to Papoose to assist with structure protection.

A series of thunderstorms moved into the area Thursday afternoon, bringing little moisture. Northwesterly winds, blowing among heavily beetle killed spruce, caused the fire to run several miles to the southeast before establishing itself in the Trout Creek area, where there are homes and guest ranches.

Firefighters burned foliage around structures in a defense effort and firefighters assigned to the night shift assisted with structure protection.

The northeast flank of the fire is the most active as the fire burns near Elk Mountain. Structure protection is in place along Colorado Highway 149 and U.S. Highway160. Sprinklers have been set up near structures and will be used in the event that the fire pushes to the east.

Gov. John Hickenlooper visited the command post and evacuees in Del Norte Thursday, as the expanding fire reportedly remained at zero containment.

No structures have been lost, and fire crews are busy around the clock to ensure that none will be.

Officials are hoping to reopen U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass Saturday. This is a key east-west artery has been closed for a week because of the West Fork wildfires.

Air quality monitors have been set up in Del Norte and Creede, while smoke has settled heavily on Pagosa Springs.

County forethought

The thought that a local disaster declaration might be needed weighed heavily on the minds of the county commissioners on June 18 when they discussed passage of a resolution allowing the BOCC to make emergency declarations without having to announce a public meeting.

Emergency meetings are acceptable, according to Colorado Sunshine Laws, if the results are immediately posted. In the case of Resolution 2013-10, it was posted and made public as soon as it was signed.

When the need for a resolution was discussed, there was some smoke coming from a fire that had not yet crossed the Continental Divide, but just a week later, Colorado Highway 149 was closed from South Fork, wildfire was threatening that town and another fire, the papoose, was burning near the Rio Grande Reservoir, where there was rising concern about the welfare of the dam.

South Fork and Wagon Wheel Gap were evacuated.

Also of concern is the Papoose Fire's slow movement toward the Rio Grande Reservoir dam, an important water source for the San Luis Valley.

When the county resolution was passed, the West Fork Fire had spread to nearly 80,000 acres, and 1,313 firefighters reportedly were battling the fire in hand crews, with fire engines and in the air. The National Guard also was called in to help.

Firefighters have held the line for South Fork, which was evacuated last Friday. The fire currently remains several miles away from the town and some residents have been allowed to return home. Dumpsters have been set up for disposal of any food that was spoiled in freezers and refrigerators while the power was off.

The problem of emergency declarations emerged after Commissioner Don Hollenshead and BOCC Chair Scott Lamb were called to the scene of a growing wildfire west of Wolf Creek Ski area June 14 and were asked by Hosselkus to allocate funds for a helicopter and other firefighting equipment.

The fire had not spread from Archuleta County into Mineral County, but the possibility was increasing, a reality that has truly come to pass.

By June 27, Hosselkus advised the BOCC that the "cost and magnitude of responding to and recovery from the impact of this event is far in excess of the county's available resources, and all available resources are being utilized or have been expended."

County Administrator Les Cahill pointed out that the cost of fighting the Black Forest fire had been financially devastating to El Paso County, and in Mineral County's case, "The county is expected to spend three percent of its budget before anyone steps in to help," he noted.

The county is 96 percent national forest, so that agency will need to deal with that, but the areas near Creede and other populated places are not so fortunate.

Other lands, such as those at the Homestake and Emperius mines are not in the county fire protection district, but are still a concern.

The county now has a written emergency management plan, with a provision for expenditures, and that came into play June 27.

Hosselkus told the BOCC that some 1,000 structures could be impacted, and the West Fork Fire, the Windy Point Fire and the Papoose Fire, collectively known as the West Fork Complex, have disrupted traffic and posed an imminent threat to the safety of motorists on U.S. Highway 160 and Colo. Highway 149 in Mineral County.

Some guided traffic was being allowed through on Thursday, but the danger was still real.

On June 18, it was noted that the sheriff needed the ability to order helicopters in a state of emergency, as do the commissioners, and the county needed to pre-authorize it.

The declaration of local disaster included in Thursday's resolution stated that the effect of the declaration was to activate the response and recovery aspects of "any and all applicable local and inter-jurisdictional disaster emergency plans" and to authorize the furnishing of aid and assistance under those plans.

For the complete article see the 06-29-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-29-2013 paper.

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