Update: The West Fork Complex fire, not far from Pagosa Springs, continues to be the most aggressive blaze currently burning in the scorched State of Colorado.
And it's proven stubbornly resistant to the best efforts of firefighters to bring it under control.
The latest: The size of the fire is now estimated at approximately 81,000 acres.
The estimated percentage of containment? Zero.
At this writing, the most up-to-date information on the West Fork Complex fire can be found at the Archuleta County Emergency Information website.
Here are details about each of the main blazes that make up the overall conflagration: the Papoose fire, the Windy Pass fire, and the West Fork fire, which is divided into zones for the purposes of description:
Papoose Fire: Fire activity increased on the northwest flank of the fire last night about shift change. The fire has burned down into Crooked Creek, and firefighters from both shifts worked diligently to protect structures as the fire pushed into the area. The night shift resources continued to work in this area through the night and as of this morning there is no known structure loss. Today firefighters will continue to provide structure protection in the Crooked Creek area and will mop up along Highway 149.
Eastern Part of West Fork Fire: On the southeast flank, along Highway 160, aerial resources will continue to keep the fire north of the highway. On the northeast side, near Sentinel Peak, firefighters will continue to improve the dozer line that is in place to minimize the chances of the fire reaching South Fork. Near Lake Humphreys and Metroz Lake, crews will continue to provide structure protection. Along Highway 149, structure protection continues on both sides of the highway.
West Zone of West Fork Complex (Includes Western Part of West Fork and Windy Pass Fires): There was minimal fire growth in the West Zone yesterday. There were some flare-ups in pockets of unburned bug-killed spruce and continued smoldering ground fires in the heavy dead fuels. Most of this activity was interior to the existing fire perimeter. With the high pressure moving in expect smoke to linger in the valleys longer during the morning.
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. Yesterday there was spotty fire activity on the south flank of the fire above Borns Lake and the fire made a short run burning in bug-killed spruce up a drainage interior to the fire perimeter. Structure protection sprinklers are installed at Bruce Spruce Resort and fire fighters will be evaluating and implementing structure protection needs for additional structures on West Fork Road today. Portions of the sprinkler system at Borns Lake were run yesterday to increase humidity and fuel moisture around the Borns lake structures.
Windy Pass Fire: Activity on the Windy Pass Fire yesterday was minimal. Windy Pass fire only grew by 26 acres, going from 1,355 acres to 1,381. With the decrease in wind intensity the immediate threat to Wolf Pass Ski Area has diminished. Fire managers are looking at possibly putting in a line with retardant to check the fire spread to the east today or tomorrow.
The overall acreage breakdown between the assorted fires is calculated like so:
Windy Pass: 1,381 acres
Papoose: 25,236 acres
West Fork: 54,714 acres
Remarkably, there continue to be no reports of structures damages or injuries sustained -- very good news. Meanwhile, the number of firefighters assigned to the fire keeps increasing, with the latest total at 1,187. One reason they've had such difficulty is the tricky terrain on which the flames have gained a foothold. Another is the weather, although today is being more cooperative than usual. The winds are expected to be in the five-to-fifteen mile-per-hour range, with gusts to twenty -- far more modest than in some recent days.
The chance of thunderstorms is expected to grow over the next few days. That could be a blessing if they bring rain, or a curse if they mainly generate lightning of the sort that's thought to have started the fire in the first place.
No new closures or evacuations have been issued, but Highway 160 from the chain-up area to South Fork -- the community that's most at risk of destruction -- is still closed.
Look below to see an eye-catching U.S. military video showing aerial efforts to bring the West Fork Complex fire under control. That's followed by our previous coverage.
Continue for our previous coverage of the West Fork Complex fire, including photos and videos. Update, 6:05 a.m. June 25: In what must be considered a victory for firefighters, the West Fork Complex fire, around fourteen miles to the north-northeast of Pagosa Springs, didn't grow appreciably over the past 24 hours and still hasn't destroyed any structures or injured any people. But the three-headed blaze remains 0 percent contained and still presents an enormous threat to the entire town of South Fork. Moreover, a slew of other fires are burning across the state and have grown serious enough to demand federal management. Updates on several below.
The amount of acreage consumed by the West Fork Complex fire as estimated by the federal Inciweb.org page devoted to it has actually gone down by a small degree, from 76,000 acres at this time yesterday morning to 75,150 as of last night. But this change is likely due to more accurate mapping, not a shrinkage in the charred terrain.
The three conflagrations that make up the overall burn are known as the Papoose fire (20,927 acres), the West Fork fire (52,979 acres) and the Windy Pass fire (1,244 acres). Here are the latest Inciweb updates on each, with the vast West Fork fire divided into two segments.
Papoose Fire: Yesterday the fire continued to back down towards Highway 149. Firefighters were successful in keeping the fire from impacting structures, and to date no confirmed structures have been damaged or destroyed. Today firefighters will continue structure protection along the northern perimeter of the Papoose Fire and north along Highway 149 in the event that the fire pushes to the north. On the northwest side, the fire has slopped over the Rio Grande Reservoir Road (FSR 520). Additional resources have been assigned to this area in an effort to keep the fire from moving north.
East Zone of West Fork Fire: Today firefighters, with assistance from air resources, will continue to work along Highway160 to keep the fire in check as it moves towards the highway. A dozer line has been created between the eastern edge of the fire and the community of South Fork. Firefighters will work to improve and reinforce the line today. Along Highway 149, firefighters will continue to clear vegetation and provide structure protection to structures west of the highway. East of Highway 149 near South Fork, structure protection is in place in the event that the fire pushes to the east and spots across the highway. To date no confirmed structures have been damaged or destroyed in this zone.
West Zone of West Fork Fire: The West Zone of the West Fork fire is the portion of the fire burning south of the continental divide. The segment on the south end of the fire that made a run up the backside of Sheep Mountain turned north yesterday burning back towards the main body of the fire. There is still concern that burning in this area could move to the west posing a threat to Highway 160. Firefighters did a structure protection assessment in the Bruce Spruce Campground along West Fork Road yesterday and will be establishing a sprinkler system to protect the structures in that area today. Structure protection remains in place for Borns Lake.
Windy Pass Fire: The Windy Pass Fire made a run in the Lane Creek drainage but it did not gain much in acreage since a good portion of the fire activity was within the existing fire perimeter. The fire went from 987 acre yesterday to 1,244 acres this morning. It did not cross over into the Wolf Creek Ski Area. Firefighters have been able to hold the Windy Pass Fire within the established indirect containment lines protecting the Wolf Creek Ski Area.
As noted, the series of fires remains entirely uncontained, and as a result, the number of personnel battling them has grown to 895 professionals. They'll have their hands full, given that another Red Flag Warning is in effect due to low relative humidity and winds estimated at 15-25 miles per hour, sometimes gusting to 35 MPH and measuring around 50 MPH on ridge tops.
Another measure of the fires' impact: An air quality monitor has been set up in the town of Del Norte. The posted links weren't working for us this morning; check back to the Inciweb page later today to see if they're operational.
What about those other fires we mentioned earlier? They include the East Peak fire, the Brush Creek fire, the Wild Rose fire and the Collins fire. Here's the latest on each, with good news about two of them. Continue for information about four other active fires burning in Colorado at this writing. East Peak fire:
Incident Type: Wildfire Cause: Lightning Date of Origin: Wednesday June 19th, 2013 approx. 04:00 PM Location: 10 miles southwest of Walsenburg, CO ITotal Personnel: 631 Size: 13,388 acres Percent Contained: 50%
Update: "In spite of high winds, low humidity and critical fuel conditions, growth on the East Peak Fire was minimal and containment increased to 50%. The estimated size of the fire is 13, 388 acres. Due to the wind, helicopters were grounded for most of the day. Despite the challenge of high winds, firefighters made progress in mop up and patrolling the fire perimeter and engine crews ensured structure protection. Mop up and patrol will continue for the overnight shift and into tomorrow. Resources continue to arrive, totaling in 631 personnel assigned to this fire.
"Red flag warnings are possible again, with very hot, dry, and windy conditions. Critical fire weather remains for tomorrow, keying firefighters to be diligent with safety. With the ongoing multi-year drought persisting, firefighters are faced with an additional challenge of the dry fuel conditions rated as extreme and potential for fire rate of spread is elevated."
Brush Creek fire:
Incident Type: Wildfire Cause: Lightning Date of Origin: Thursday June 20th, 2013 approx. 04:00 PM Location: 12 miles north of Rifle Total Personnel: 180 Size: 403 acres Percent Contained: 65% Significant Events: Rifle Gap Reservoir is closed to boating on the west side due to helicopter activity.
Update: "The 400-acre Brush Creek Fire is burning about 10 miles north of Rifle, Colo. on BLM land. No structures are currently threatened.
"Approximately 180 firefighters, four helicopters, three engines and a type 3 incident management team worked the fire today. Firefighters have made excellent progress holding the fire's growth in check and building containment lines. The fire is now 65 percent contained. The fire has not grown in the past several days due to the work of the firefighters, but it is still active and still has potential to grow."
Wild Rose fire:
Incident Type: Wildfire Cause: Lightning Date of Origin: Wednesday June 19th, 2013 approx. 12:00 AM Location: 21 miles south of Rangely, CO Total Personnel: 221 Size: 1,067 acres Percent Contained: 100%
Update: "All the fire related road closures were lifted. Crews completed 100% containment of the fire and continued to patrol, mop up and line rehabilitation. RM IMT A tranferred command of the fire back to the local unit at 2000, June 24, 2013."
Incident Type: Wildfire Cause: Lighting Date of Origin: Thursday June 20th, 2013 approx. 01:45 PM Location: 20 miles SW of Meeker, CO Total Personnel: 141 Size: 388 acres Percent Contained: 100%
Update: "Rocky Mountain IMT A transferred fire back to the local unit at 2000 on June 24, 2013."
Continue for our previous coverage of the West Fork Complex fire, including more photos and videos. Original post, 6:08 a.m. June 24: Over the weekend, firefighters got the upper hand on the Lime Gulch fire in southern Jefferson County -- the blaze whose smoke plume was most visible to residents of the Denver metro area. But that doesn't mean those in other portions of the state are out of the smoldering woods. The West Fork Complex fire, located just north-northwest from Pagosa Springs, continues to roar out of control, with 0 percent containment and more acreage consumed -- 76,000 and counting -- than other Colorado fires in 2013. Moreover, the town of South Fork continues to be at risk.
As noted by the federal Inciweb page devoted to the conflagration, the West Fork Complex blaze, which started on June 5 (!), is actually a combination of several smaller -- not to say small -- fires. Here's the latest map of the impacted zone....
...and this is the current situation for each of the main fires referenced under the West Fork Complex name, as updated late last night. Keep an eye out for info about South Fork, as well as the Wolf Pass Ski Area:
Papoose Fire: The Papoose Fire is the most active of the three fires in the complex. Today firefighters will focus on evaluating and providing structure protection along the northern perimeter of the fire. On the north side, the fire has burned into the flat and has crossed the river, but has not crossed Highway 149. Firefighters working on the Papoose Fire will be staying in a spike camp close to the fire.
East Zone of West Fork Fire: This zone includes the portion of the West Fork Fire that is on the north side of the Continental Divide. Today firefighters will focus on evaluating and providing structure protection between the West Fork Fire and Highways 149 and 160 in this zone. Sprinkler systems will be assembled and put in place as a precaution in the event that fire activity increases in the zone. Firefighters will also work to remove fuels adjacent to structures to provide additional protection. Areas west of South Fork are being evaluated for natural fire breaks that can be reinforced and used as control line to minimize the chances of the fire reaching the community. The fire is still estimated to be 4-5 miles from the town of South Fork. No structure loss has been documented at this time.
West Zone of West Fork Fire: Activity on the West Fork Fire, south of the continental divide, was more active yesterday than it has been all week. The fire made a run up the backside of Sheep Mountain to the east and is burning above Highway 160. Firefighters will be working today to catch any spots along the 160 corridor and additional firefighting resources have been brought in to protect private land and structures off of the West Fork Road around Borns Lake.
Windy Pass Fire: The Windy Pass Fire which is currently burning in an area with less dense vegetation than the other two fires, made a few short runs towards Lane Creek yesterday. Though we have very little growth in Windy Pass Fire, it has the potential to move into the volatile bug-killed vegetation on either the west or east side of the existing perimeter. Firefighters have been able to hold the Windy Pass Fire within the established indirect containment lines protecting the Wolf Pass Ski Area and additional engines to provide protection for the ski resort will be assigned to the fire today.
As pointed out by 9News, the various fires have now consumed well over 100 square miles worth of growth -- yet, miraculously, there have been no reported injuries or structures lost to date.
Not that its effect has been negligible. All 400 permanent citizens of South Fork have had to leave, and so have others nearby (South Fork's mayor, Kenneth Brooke, estimates evacuations at between 1,000 and 1,500 residents). Also ordered to go were those visiting the beautiful area. .
To make matters more worrisome, the 600 or so firefighters currently assigned to West Fork will once again be dealing with weather that's generated a Red Flag warning thanks to low relative humidity and high winds. There's currently no estimate about when the lightning-caused fire will be under control.
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More from our News archive circa Friday: "Update: Lime Gulch fire at 600 acres, thirty structures could be in blaze's path."