Favorable conditions help firefighters’ battle

Vallecito Fire has the highest priority

JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
Efforts on Friday at the Vallecito Fire east of Durango focused on using aircraft and bulldozers instead of hand crews. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald Efforts on Friday at the Vallecito Fire east of Durango focused on using aircraft and bulldozers instead of hand crews.

Fall fires burning across Southwest Colorado failed to make significant runs Friday, giving firefighters a chance to gain ground by building containment lines.

The Vallecito Fire was 201 acres in size, according to an infrared flight done Thursday night. It was burning mostly along the ground in brush and debris left by the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire.

The fire is believed to have started Oct. 12 from an electrical storm. It was located about 1½ miles west of Vallecito Reservoir and about a mile southwest from the center of the Vallecito community, said Pam Wilson, a spokeswoman with U.S. Forest Service.

There was maybe 20 acres of growth on the fire Friday afternoon when winds picked up, but it was within containment lines created by fire-retardant drops, Wilson said in a press release at 7:30 p.m. Earlier in the day, she said, “I think we’re definitely in a winding-down phase.” The fire is 15 percent contained.

Eighteen homes remained on a pre-evacuation notice, meaning those residents were informed they may be asked to leave at a moment’s notice. But the fire was two-thirds of a mile from the nearest home, Wilson said.

About 90 people were assigned to the blaze. Two helicopters and air tankers also were working the fire.

The Little East Fire, burning in the East Canyon and Cherry Creek areas near the La Plata-Montezuma county line, also showed minimal growth Friday.

It is 100 percent contained.

“I would say we’re kind of in a mop-up mode (today),” Dan Bender, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s office, said.

An air tanker created a containment line around at least 75 percent of the fire, and hand crews had a line around 40 percent of the perimeter.

The fire was burning in a steep, rugged canyon west of Cherry Creek Road (County Road 105).

“It sounds like they’ve got a handle on it,” said Dave Lenihan, a dispatcher with the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center.

Today, crews will continue to expand and widen the existing fire line around the perimeter. Pre-evacuation notices have been lifted.

Other fires continued to burn in the area:

The Goblin Fire, burning near Needleton in the Weminuche Wilderness, grew from 600 acres to about 700 acres in size Friday. No homes were threatened, but it put up a column of smoke visible to people north of Durango.

The South Hope Creek Fire, burning 10 miles northwest of Hermosa, was estimated at less than 1 acre in size.

The Styx Fire was about three-tenths of an acre in size. The small fire was burning in a wilderness area above Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort.

The Vallecito Fire had the highest priority for firefighters Friday because it had the most potential for threatening structures, Wilson said.

Fall fires in Southwest Colorado aren’t totally unusual, but they are typically smaller in size, she said. With a rifle season starting today, Wilson reminded people to be careful with campfires.

“I am personally surprised by the size of the fires – that they’ve been able to get this large this late in the season,” she said. “There really hasn’t been enough moisture to replenish the moisture in the fuels.”

shane@durangoherald.com

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