Summer on hold: Raging wildfires, and public land closures, define the summer of 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 12:02 AM
Courtesy of Dan Bender - An air tanker drops retardant on the 416 Fire north of Durango.

Those folks lucky enough to take full advantage of the 35th annual Animas River Days may have seen more than a water-soaked good time.

They may have seen the highlight of the summer of 2018.

That’s a pessimistic prediction, and we hope we are way off the mark. But with the 416 Fire burning toward the 25,000-acre mark and still forcing evacuations north of Durango – and the Burro Fire raging to the west in remote, rugged country – the smoky mornings and apocalyptic afternoon views of the fires’ giant clouds may be part of our lives for many weeks to come.

Add the San Juan National Forest’s announcement of a forestwide Stage 3 fire closure, which took effect on Tuesday, and it feels as if much of summer – or much of our planning for summer adventure – has been put on hold until significant moisture arrives.

Later on Tuesday, the city of Durango passed an emergency ordinance that closed all its open space and trails, which includes Animas City Mountain, Horse Gulch, Dalla Mountain Park, Overend Mountain Park, Carbon Junction, as well as the Durango Dog Park.

Also, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced the closure of Bodo, Perins Peak, Haviland Lake, Devil Creek and Williams Creek state wildlife areas until further notice.

One slender silver lining in the clouds of smoke is the fact that the Animas River will remain open to recreation, providing one accessible way for locals and tourists to cool off, one that may keep our corps of raft guides employed in a season that is turning tough for summer employees.

Embedded in all the news is the underlying need for us to be vigilant, and exceedingly careful with our use of fire and potential fire sources. An early Monday morning blaze east of town – started by a discarded cigarette – was handled by crews before it could threaten a forested hillside and numerous homes.

Until relief arrives – we hope in the form of a strong , early monsoon season – we will join Frances Roach of Mancos (Herald, June 5) in her call for everyone to pray for rain.

Yes. Pray, sing and dance for rain according to your spiritual beliefs, and don’t forget to thank the crews doing such an amazing job, both on the ground and from fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft.

Remarkably, as of Tuesday afternoon, not a single structure had been lost to the 416 Fire thanks to the skill and hard work by men and women from all over the country who are dedicated to battling the blazes and protecting life, property, wildlife and natural resources here in Southwest Colorado.

We can’t thank you – and support you – enough.