Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: West Fork Complex Fire In Colorado Doubles To 76,000 Acres With Zero Containment - Official Forecast Fire Likely Will Burn For Months!

June 25, 2013 - UNITED STATES - High winds kept firefighters in southwestern Colorado in a defensive posture Monday, but officials are optimistic that decreasing winds will aid efforts on Tuesday and Wednesday in their battle against the West Fork Complex fire.


Wildfire smoke plumes above Del Norte Peak on Sunday, June 23, 2013, in near Del Norte, Colo. A wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The fire, a combination of three wildfires — West Fork, Windy Pass and Papoose — has burned about 75,150 acres about 14 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs.

For most of the day, the area was under a red flag warning from the National Weather Service. The fire warning was prompted by gusty winds up to 55 mph in the fire area, low humidities and extremely dry fuels.

Officials said Monday evening that the winds had severely limited air support throughout the day, but structures had been lost.

The massive fire, which is threatening the town of South Fork, is burning through steep terrain with heavy timber, including wide areas of dead, standing beetle-kill spruce trees.

"This is a significant fire, with significant problems," said Pete Blume, West Fork Complex incident commander. "You will not see significant gains until we get some help from the weather."

And, although winds are expected to die down on Tuesday, the temperature is likely to go up.




The cost of fighting the fire is $2.2 million as of Monday.

On Sunday, the fire had some growth to the north and the east, fueled by winds out of the southwest, and it also burned acreage within the perimeter.

Fire command had 895 people working on the fire Monday, with 50 engines, 10 water tenders and nine helicopters.

Command expected to use four or five heavy air tankers, along with three single-engine air tankers Monday.

There is no containment of the fire, but firefighters worked to establish a 2-mile bulldozer line Sunday above South Fork.

"We are very encouraged with those efforts," Blume said.

Blume described the dozer line as the "beginning" of a control line, something firefighters
hoped to "anchor" on Monday.

"Every day it doesn't run at South Fork is a good thing," Blume said. "I have to say, things are looking better but by no means secure."

There are no current plans to allow residents who are evacuated back into their homes.


Wildfire smoke plumes above Del Norte Peak on Sunday, June 23, 2013, in near Del Norte, Colo. A large wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Colorado State Patrol officer Jessie Bartunek talks to a motorist as he stands at a checkpoint near South Fork, Colo., Sunday, June 23, 2013. A large wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Power had been disrupted in the area by the fire.

The San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative reminded residents to thoroughly cook any refrigerated or frozen foods to the proper temperature to assure that any food-borne bacteria is destroyed.

The fire likely will burn for months, Blume told The Associated Press. And crews are not expecting to make any real gains against the 117-square-mile burn until the summer monsoon season brings cooler temperatures and rains, hopefully in early July.

The blaze started June 5 with a lighting strike in a rugged, remote area of the San Juan Mountains, west of the Continental Divide. A second lightning strike sparked a fire east of the Divide. The two then joined, making a fast run Thursday and Friday at popular tourist areas, including South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

A third lightning strike, meantime, sparked another fire to the west, creating what is now called the West Fork complex.

Crews in Colorado also are being challenged by the high altitude, which adds to the danger and complexity of launching air assaults in smoke and high winds, said Larry Trapp, a branch director of air operations with Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident.

Command working the east side of the Continental Divide.


WATCH: U.S. Military - West Fork Complex Fire Aerial Firefighting.



Among the air resources on the way, he said, is a helicopter with infrared technology that can fly through the smoke to map power lines above the tree line.

About a dozen fires burned elsewhere in Colorado, including the nearly 21-square-mile East Peak wildfire near the southern Colorado town of Walsenburg that was 50 percent contained.

Jefferson County issued Level 1 pre-evacuation orders to 106 phones in the Maxwell Hill Road Area Monday afternoon.

Maxwell Hill Road residents have been told to be prepared to leave because of the Bear Gulch fire, according to Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley.

The Bear Gulch Fire is located in the remote area of Elk Mountain Road and Kuehster Road in the Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District.

Fire officials are having a hard time accessing the fire, even smaller trucks cannot get into the area. Air support has already done nine water drops, according to Kelley. - Denver Post.





West Fork Fire Likely Will Burn For Months, Official Says.
Crews defending small homes, a ski area and a handful of roads against an erratic wildfire in Colorado's southwest mountains hoped Monday for a break — any break — in the weather that will allow them to launch a more strategic assault on the backcountry blaze.

The West Fork fire likely will burn for months, said incident commander Pete Blume. And crews are not expecting to make any real gains against the 117-square-mile burn until the summer monsoon season brings cooler temperatures and rains, hopefully in early July.

"This is a significant fire with significant problems, and we are not going to see any significant containment until we have significant changes in the weather," said Blume, who is with the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Command.

The fire is feeding on beetle-killed trees and is fanned by hot, windy weather. Those conditions were expected to continue across much of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, where a 119-square-mile wildfire in the mountains of Gila National Forest is expected to grow this week.

Some 900 firefighters with a variety of aircraft were in southwestern Colorado, and more were arriving. But so far they have been in an almost completely defensive mode, waiting for the 30-to 40-mile-an-hour afternoon winds that have grounded aircraft and driven flames to subside.

The fire's price tag has topped $2.2 million, and the effort has just begun.

More than 1,000 residents and visitors left homes, cabins and RV parks in South Fork and surrounding areas Friday. As of Monday, no structures were known to have been lost.

The blaze started June 5 with a lighting strike in a rugged, remote area of the San Juan Mountains, west of the Continental Divide. A second lightning strike sparked a fire east of the divide. The two then joined, making a fast run Thursday and Friday at popular tourist areas, including South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.


Wildfire smoke blankets a ridge Sunday, June 23, 2013, near Alpine, Colo. A large wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Colorado State Patrol officer Jessie Bartunek talks to a motorist at a checkpoint near South Fork, Colo., Sunday, June 23, 2013. A large wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The sun sets through wildfire smoke Sunday, June 23, 2013, near Monte Vista, Colo. A large wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A third lightning strike, meantime, sparked another fire to the west, creating what is now called the West Fork complex, the largest and most intense to ever hit this area, Blume said. That fire was moving north but was several miles from the historic mining town of Creede. Near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, the town now has a thriving tourist industry that relies on its colorful past.

In Creede on Monday, residents and tourists shopping went about business as usual. West of town, on Highway 149, hills smoldered above homes where firefighters worked to contain the blaze.

Such larger and longer-burning fires are far from unusual in the drought- and beetle-stricken West. The Rio Grande Forest, for example, had another dry winter. More than half of its hundreds of thousands of acres of mature spruce trees have been killed by beetles, turning the usually fire resistant trees into tinder, Blume said.


 WATCH: Official - West Fork Complex Fire Could Burn For Months.





Crews in Colorado also are being challenged by the high altitude, which adds to the danger and complexity of launching air assaults in smoke and high winds, said Larry Trapp, a branch director of air operations with Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Command working the east side of Continental Divide. Wolf Creek's summit is 11,904 feet; South Fork's elevation is 8,208 feet. Some peaks in the Rio Grande Forest surpass 13,000 feet.

Among the air resources on the way, he said, is a helicopter with infrared technology that can fly through the smoke to map power lines above the tree line. That will allow more tankers to take to the sky to drop retardant, Trapp said.

About a dozen fires burned elsewhere in Colorado, including a nearly 21-square-mile wildfire - named the East Peak fire - near the southern Colorado town of Walsenburg that was 50 percent contained. - Gazette.





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