Trees continue to smolder and burn in the Rio Grande National Forest. This tree was found a mile up the road from Big Meadows. The forest above Big Meadows burned about four days ago. Plumes of smoke from the Papoose Fire crawl high into the sky on Highway 149 Friday afternoon. Courier photos by Lauren Krizansky
DEL NORTE — South Fork residents and business owners are back where they belong.
On Friday morning, Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton announced in Del Norte residents could return home immediately, but must remember they are in an active fire zone and are responsible for their own safety. The area is still considered dangerous and will remain in a pre-evacuation status. Residents might be evacuated again, so staying prepared to leave is essential.
Residents west of Highway 149 or the Rio Grande River remain under mandatory evacuation, according to reports. This includes Elk Park and the portion of Masonic Park west of the river.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will reopen US 160 over Wolf Creek Pass today at 6 a.m. to all traffic, according to a press release. The road has been closed since June 20 while the fire has grown to 90,056 acres, costing over $10 million since igniting on June 5 from a lightening strike.
The multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional incident command team determined that, barring any major change in fire behavior, the reopening of the highway could move forward as planned. Because conditions could change, all travelers are urged to check road conditions before each planned trip, according to a press release. Notifications regarding a reopening of Highway 149 will continue to be posted as well.
Highway 149, between South Fork and Creede, a 22-mile stretch, was closed on June 21 at 9 a.m. The alternate route from east to west is Highway 285 from Monte Vista to Highway 114 (North Pass), to US 50 at Montrose and then US 550 to Durango.
Highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass remains closed at the intersection of 160 and County Road 20, west of South Fork, according to a press release. Travel to Creede is still restricted, but pilot cars leave regularly from checkpoints on Highway 149. Please allow extra time for travel in this corridor. Some areas along Highway 149 west of the river or the highway remain under a mandatory evacuation. Other evacuations remain in effect in Mineral County due to extreme fire behavior on the Papoose Fire and continuing threat from the West Fork Fire.
Norton and the fire’s Incident Management Team are cooperating to reopen some areas, but cannot over stress the continuing danger posed by these fires, according to a press release. There continues to be heavy smoke and heavy emergency vehicle traffic due to intense fire activity. Residents and visitors are asked to monitor local news and be prepared to evacuate again quickly if conditions change. In addition, everyone is asked to drive below the speed limit with their lights on. Do not stop on the side of the road to take pictures of the fire or fire fighters.
On Thursday, Mineral County was declared a local disaster area Thursday, June 27, according to reports. Sheriff Fred Hosselkus asked for an emergency declaration because fire and smoke were posing an imminent threat to county residents and visitors. Mineral County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) Vice Chair Ramona Weber signed the declaration.
Situation as of 8 p.m. Friday night
East Zone of the West Fork Complex
(Includes Papoose and Eastern Part of West Fork Fires)
The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team has added a swing shift to their operations, according to reports. Adding the third shift allows for an on time transition between day and night forces and for adequate staffing during the times when the fires are most likely to be active.
Papoose Fire, 32,272 acres
On the northwest flank, the fire continues to be active in Crooked Creek. Late yesterday, several spot fires of five to 20 acres developed in the Hermit Lakes area, according to reports. Yesterday, firefighters focused on structure protection and worked on the spot fires that occurred with yesterday’s extreme fire behavior.
This afternoon, the east flank of the fire was active as the fire pushed to the south near Baldy Mountain. Firefighters continued to evaluate and provide structure protection in the Trout Creek area.
Eastern Part of West Fork Fire, 56,373 acres total
The fire continues to be active near Metroz Lake and Elk Mountain on the east side, according to reports. At Lake Humphreys and Metroz Lake, firefighters continue to provide structure protection. Near Elk Mountain, firefighters are utilizing a combination of hand line, dozer line, hose lays and aircraft as delaying tactics to slow the progression of the fire as it moves towards a more defensible position on the lower slopes.
West Zone of West Fork Complex
(Includes Western Part of West Fork and Windy Pass Fires)
A change in wind direction and an inversion brought heavy smoke into the San Juan River Valley and Pagosa Springs, according to reports. The inversion held the smoke throughout today. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is installing a portable tower at the Durango Airport due to the volume of aircraft flying in the area in support of the fires
Western Part of West Fork Fire
The West Zone of the West Fork fire is the portion of the fire burning south of the continental divide, according to reports. There was a run today near the Born Lake cabins and firefighters had to leave the site, but no structures were lost. Structure protection is still in place for Bruce Spruce Resort, which is still open, and hose lays and sprinkler system are in place and operational in the West Fork Campground that is also open.
Windy Pass Fire, 2 percent contained, 1,411 acres
Activity on the Windy Pass Fire today was minimal, according to reports. Crews will be re-enforcing and maintaining existing contingency lines.
A Red Flag warning today caused high winds and smoky conditions that persisted throughout Friday, according to reports. Thunderstorms are predicted for tonight, with a 40 percent chance of rain, lightning and gusty winds being the primary concerns.
Smoke monitors are in place in Del Norte and Creede. For the official Colorado Smoke Outlook visithttp://www.colorado.gov/airquality/colo_advisory.aspx and http://www.colorado.gov/air quality/wildfire.aspx for further health advisory information.
Resources on the scene
• Nine Type 1 hand crews, 20 Type 2 hand crews, 109 engines, 2 dozers, 13 water tenders, and overhead personnel
• Seven Type 1 helicopters, 3 Type 2 helicopters, 10 Type 3 helicopters, and 2 single engine air tankers (SEATS)