Update: Bulldozers finish Burro Fire lines; crews prepare for next steps

Sunday, June 17, 2018 10:15 AM
The Pike Hotshots, from Colorado Springs, are working to cut down dead trees that might burn and weaken a fire line in the Burro Fire east of Dolores.
The Pike Hotshots, from Colorado Springs, on Friday worked to cut down dead trees that might burn and weaken a fire line in the Burro Fire east of Dolores.
Pike Hotshots, from Colorado Springs, “snag” a forest road, cutting down dead trees that pose a threat to the fire line should the fire reach that far.
A member of the Pike Hotshots, of Colorado Springs, Friday at the Burro Fire.
A Pike Hotshot, from Colorado Springs, bucked a downed tree Friday on a Burro Fire containment line.
The June 16 Burro Fire operations map shows an existing bulldozer line runnning northeast of the fire, and a planned line at Forest Road 561 and the Gold Run Trailhead. After the bulldozer lines are made, firefighters will inginte back-burns to secure the lines and reach containment for the area.
The infrared map derived from a flyover on Friday night shows more intense flames on the northwest and southeast sides of the Burro Fire.
Fire operations manager Jeff Thumm explains the strategy for containing the Burro Fire, which has burned in more than 3,400 acres of the Bear Creek area of the San Juan National Forest 14 miles south of Rico.
A resident expresses concerns about human behavior adding to the fire risk, including finding lit cigarettes on the ground at a fishing area up the Dolores Valley.

Crews battling the Burro Fire on Saturday received help from a light rain, and finished bulldozing about 4 miles of containment lines in the key northwestern and southwestern sectors of the fire.

The fire lay down overnight Friday but continued to burn slowly in the Bear Creek drainage area. Smoke was minimal, said public information officer Donnie Davis.

The fire was at 3,715 acres on Saturday, up from 3,484 acres on Friday. It was projected to spread to the northeast and south-southeast in the next 24 hours in mountainous, heavily timbered country at 9,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation.

Containment Saturday night was at 12 percent.

The fire’s growth on Friday was attributed to high winds related to Hurricane Bud, and the fire continued to creep within the valleys and ridges.

Hurricane Bud also brought rain.

A flash flood watch remained in place until midnight Saturday, with up to an inch of rain forecast for the mountains and a half-inch for the valleys. High temperatures were expected to be in the mid-60s. Scattered showers were expected to continue through Sunday afternoon, and warmer, drier weather was expected to return on Monday.

On Saturday, the area received about .2 inch of rain, said Andy Lyon, public information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

Bulldozer crews focused their efforts Saturday on the fire’s west side to clear a line southward near the junction of Forest Road 561 and the Gold Run Trailhead.

Crews also extended a bulldozer line that runs northwest roughly paralleling Forest Road 561, west of the more intense flareups at Little Bear Trail.

With the bulldozed lines complete, firefighters will clean up fire lines and berms of downed timber and other fuels that could jeopardize the lines if the fire reached them, Lyon said. Then, as conditions improve, crews would ignite back-burns to further secure the line and attain containment for the area.

The cost of the Burro Fire was at $1.1 million as of Saturday, Lyons said. He noted that removable timber is salvaged and sold.

Earlier in the week, the bulldozer crew created a 2.5-mile firebreak along the southwest edge of Bear Creek Canyon, a site that The Journal toured last Sunday. Crews hope to prevent the fire from moving west and southwest toward Haycamp Mesa and Transfer Park, and northwest toward the Dolores River and Colorado Highway 145, where there are residences and businesses.

“We got some solid lines built on the southern end at Bear Creek,” Lyon said on Friday night.

Crews also have considered drawing a containment line on Morrison Trail (610), east of Haycamp Mesa. Aspen groves, which do not burn as quickly as mixed conifer, also were considered as part of the northwestern fire line.

The northeast sector of the fire was not staffed on Saturday. Fire operation managers have said that trying to stop the fire from going northeast is not practical because of the heavy timber, dry conditions, limited water and rugged terrain. If the fire made a significant run to the northeast, it would trigger additional resources to defend the town of Rico, said fire operations manager Jeff Thumm.

About 152 personnel worked on the fire as of Saturday evening, including staff at the incident command center in Dolores High School, said Lyon.

On Thursday night in Dolores, forest and fire officials and Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin encouraged a crowd at the Dolores Community Center to be patient because the wildfire was expected to burn for weeks.

“It is going to take extended monsoons to put this fire out,” said Thumm.

“We can herd the fire to avoid value areas, but it will take weather to put it out,” Dan Dallas, incident commander for the Burro Fire, said on Thursday night. “Monsoons will likely put it out, but if not, we will have a line around it until it burns out or the snows hit.”

To protect private property nearest the fire on the southwest and northwest, fire officials said they are establishing trigger points for calling in additional resources and a Ready Set Go system for evacuation.

“We’re at the ‘be ready’ stage,” Thumm said. “We are establishing trigger points so if the fire gets to a certain point near property, we call in what we need to protect those structures.”

Residences in the region of the fire have been identified, and fire specialists are contacting owners about structure protection plans, risks, possible evacuation and fire mitigation. Nowlin urged everyone to begin thinking about possible evacuation.

“Have a plan, gather important documents, medications and valuables in a bag, You should be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Do not forget your pets, have a plan for your livestock,” he said.

“How much notice will we have?” asked a guest ranch owner, who has dozens of horses near the fire.

Fire officials said they would give as much notice as possible, but because wildfires can be unpredictable, residents could get a day or only an hour to evacuate.

Journal reporter Jim Mimiaga contributed to this article.

At a glance

The Burro Fire, named for a nearby mountain, started June 8 and burns 5 miles up the Bear Creek drainage east of Dolores.

Size of fire: 3,715 acres, with 12 percent containment as of Saturday evening. The fire is expected to burn for weeks. Containment is projected for July 15.

What’s next: Create secure containment lines on the west and south sides of the fire to keep it from Colorado Highway 145 and the Haycamp Mesa and Transfer Park areas. A bulldozer has cleared a line along with hand crews and is preparing for back-burns. Firefighters were scouting for containment opportunities along the north and west sides of the fire.

Closures: The San Juan National Forest is closed to recreation; Mancos State Park is partially closed; Lone Dome and Fish Creek state wildlife areas are closed.

Firefighters: Managed by a Type 1 crew in Dolores along with the larger 416 Fire north of Durango. A total of 152 personnel are fighting the fire at the scene and at the command center in Dolores.

Weather: Cloudy, with light rain on Saturday; chance of rain Sunday. Winds 5-15 mph.

Cost: $1.1 million as of June 16.

The Journal


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