More than 170 firefighters were battling the Burro Fire on Thursday south of Rico, which was in its seventh day and had burned 3,400 acres in and around the Bear Creek drainage.
Because of the heavily timbered, steep terrain, containment has been a challenge and remains at zero percent.
Rain expected in the next few days could help slow the fire. But the storm front’s erratic winds could expand the fire, and lightning could start new fires in the dry forest suffering from exceptional drought, said Andy Lyons, public information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.
“What happens next really depends on the weather and rain amounts in the next few days,” Lyons said. “We could see the fire get pushed into additional areas due to gusty winds associated with the front.”
Efforts continued Thursday to establish a containment line on the south and west sides of the fire, officials said. A bulldozer and hand crews were clearing a line, and portable water tanks, hoses and pumps were being used to deliver water to douse spot fires that jump the fire line.
Stopping the fire from spreading west down Bear Creek Canyon is a priority to protect private property, residences and a campground along Colorado Highway 145. Firefighters were working with property owners to defend against the fire if it travels west toward the highway.
On Wednesday, the Burro Fire grew by about 500 acres, spreading into the Rough Canyon area to the northeast and toward Windy Gap, Lyons said.
The fire has also jumped Forest Service Road 561 on the south side, where firefighters have been working to establish a containment line to prevent it from spreading that direction.
The fire is moving northeast and southeast, with possible spot fires toward the west, according to infrared mapping conducted by airplane Wednesday night. Spot fires to the east were near Indian Trail Ridge.
On the other side of the ridge, the 416 Fire continues to rage. It had burned 32,076 acres and was 15 percent contained as of Thursday evening. Both fires are creeping toward each other and are about 6 miles apart.
Indian Trail Ridge is somewhat of a natural firebreak because it is near timberline and has less timber, but embers from the Burro Fire could sail over the ridge and light fires in the heavily wooded Hermosa drainage, Lyons said.
The behavior of the Burro Fire is described as short crown runs, torching, short-range spotting and flanking. It is burning 14 miles south of Rico, 5 miles east of Colorado Highway 145, and 23 miles east of Dolores.
Estimated containment is expected in mid-July. No structures have been lost to the fire. The estimated cost to fight it is at $450,000, Lyons said.
Late Sunday, the San Juan National Forest was closed to public use, including campgrounds, trails, trailheads and forest roads. Grazing on forest lands and access to private land will require written authorization from the Dolores District ranger. McPhee Reservoir and the McPhee Boat Ramp likely will remain open, but no shoreline activity will be allowed. The Dolores-Norwood Road (FR 526) will remain open. All logging and outfitting will be prohibited.
On Wednesday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced that the north and west shores of Jackson Gulch Reservoir in Mancos State Park would close because of “exceptionally high fire risk in the area.” All roads, trails and campsites in that area of the park, which borders the San Juan National Forest, were closed. Campers in the area’s four occupied campsites were asked to move to a different part of the park.
Park Manager Scot Elder said CPW decided to implement the partial closure because Mancos State Park has the same type of fuel as the San Juan National Forest, which closed Tuesday because of fire danger. He also said some visitors to the park recently failed to comply with the Stage 2 fire restrictions, and he didn’t want to risk that another mistake might start a wildfire.
“We are committed to working with the Forest Service, Montezuma County and the water district to take all precautions to minimize any risk of fire,” Elder said in the release. “We’ll monitor this closure frequently and adjust it to find balance between providing recreation while minimizing risk.”
The park’s main campground, the two rental yurts, the group picnic area and the boat ramp will remain open for the time being. Parts of the reservoir’s shoreline, along the dam and the south side, are open to fishing and nonmotorized boat launches.
Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in place for the park, meaning all open fires are prohibited and smoking is only allowed inside a vehicle. According to the release, everyone who has made a reservation for a campsite in the closed part of the park will be moved to the main campground.
Lone Dome and Fish Creek State Wildlife Areas have also been closed. In Durango, the Bodo, Perins Peak, Haviland Lake, Devil Creek and Williams Creek wildlife areas are closed, and the Lion’s Club shooting range in Bayfield is also closed.
Navajo State Park, Ridgway State Park, Echo Canyon State Wildlife Area and Pastorious State Wildlife Area are still open. Mesa Verde National Park will also stay open unless a fire threatens its borders, public information officer Cristy Brown said Wednesday.