Summer on hold: Raging wildfires, and a forest closure, define the summer of 2018

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 3:45 PM

Those folks lucky enough to attend the 88th annual Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds may have seen more than a fine opening fireworks display and a lot of great action in the arena.

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 Burro Fire expanding to over 1,000 acres and burning out of control to the west of the volatile 416 Fire north of Durango, those ominous plumes of smoke may mar the view of our mountain horizon for many weeks to come.

With the San Juan National Forest’s announcement of a forest-wide Stage 3 fire closure, effective today, it feels as if much of summer – or much of our summer planning for outdoor fun – has been put on hold until significant moisture arrives.

“The closure order will prohibit entry in the San Juan National Forest … by the general public,” the announcement reads. “This means that forest campgrounds, day-use areas, roads and trails will be closed, including wilderness areas, and that hiking, dispersed camping and other recreation activities are prohibited.”

One slim silver lining in the clouds of smoke was the news that the McPhee Reservoir boat ramp and marina will likely remain open, providing a dependable way for county residents with boats to cool off as summer temperatures climb. That welcome will not extend to the shoreline of the lake, however, where the fire danger makes it unwise to permit the usual lakeside summer activities.

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. Quick cooperation from a variety of ground and aircrews, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Dove Creek Volunteer Fire Department, put out a blaze west of Cahone last week before the flames could spread into the canyon country. And an early Monday morning blaze – started by a discarded cigarette – was handled by crews east of Durango 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 (Journal, June 8) 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 firefighters and aircrews, both local and from all over the country, who are dedicating their summer to battling the blazes and protecting life, property, wildlife and natural resources here in Southwest Colorado.