Burro Fire support personnel pack up; containment still at 53 percent

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 8:49 PM
Support personnel with the interagency management team fighting the Burro Fire remove unused fire hoses from the incident command station at the Dolores school campus.
Camp crews pack up supplies at the incident command station in Dolores as the fire management team downsizes on Wednesday.
The interagency fire management team stationed at the Dolores school campus gives away unused bags of ice on Wednesday as it downsizes to a Type 3 crew.

The interagency fire management team responding to the Burro Fire started cleaning up the incident command station Wednesday amid reports of improved fire containment.

An infrared mapping flight at 9:44 p.m. Tuesday showed the fire had grown 26 acres, reaching a total of 3,741 acres, but its perimeter had cooled down enough for the team to declare it 53 percent contained.

Despite the progress, the fire was not out.

A flight crew in the morning noticed a half-dozen spot fires, said public information officer Andy Lyon, and a second flyover in the afternoon noticed that the number had doubled. Although Lyon said the spot fires were not especially troubling, they did indicate that there was still “plenty of fire in there.”

“We don’t expect any big runs,” Lyon said, “but folks are still going to see and smell smoke – not just from the Burro Fire, but from the 416.”

Several groups of firefighters were scheduled to leave the camp near Bear Creek on Wednesday, and support personnel started packing up the command station at Dolores High School.

The San Juan National Forest also announced it would reopen at 3 p.m. Thursday, downgrading to Stage 2 fire restrictions. But several areas near the Burro and 416 fires will remain closed, including Bear Creek Trail and sections of the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to the Junction Creek terminus. A Stage 3 fire closure order that has been in place since June 12.

Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in place throughout BLM land. All open fires, outdoor smoking, explosives and use of machines like chain saws that could give off sparks, are banned.

Public information officer John Bearer said maps released Wednesday morning by the fire crews showed more containment than the official 53 percent, but he added that measuring a fire’s potential to spread isn’t an exact science. Traditionally, firefighters determine a fire’s containment by walking around the perimeter and measuring the temperature of the ground and fuel sources, but this time Bearer said the team is primarily relying on predictions by fire behavior specialists.

According to Wednesday’s fire behavior forecast, so much rain fell on the Bear Creek area over the weekend that it would take several days of consistently warm, sunny weather to get back to last week’s high fire danger. Incident meteorologist Royce Fontenot predicted mostly clear weather for the rest of the week, with high temperatures in the low 70s and no chance of precipitation.

“At this point, we think the fire is safe, but the weather’s going to make it tougher,” Bearer said.

Public information officer Andy Lyon emphasized that “containment is not out,” meaning the fire will likely continue to burn until mid-July and could start to spread again if conditions change.

But the team’s experts were optimistic that the worst of the wildfire is over.

“The 416 Fire and Burro Fire no longer pose significant threats to public safety, private properties, infrastructure, and the local economy,” the incident command said Wednesday.

The Pike Interagency Hotshot Team, a 20-person wildland fire crew based in Monument, Colorado, left the scene of the Burro Fire on Wednesday. Lyon said a few other crews would follow them by the end of the week. A smaller, Type 3 fire management team will remain camped out near the Burro Fire and in Dolores until monsoon season begins at the end of the month, Lyon said. After that, if there are no additional flare-ups, the U.S. Forest Service will be responsible for monitoring the fire.

Camp crews started packing the incident command station’s leftover supplies onto semitrailers Wednesday morning, to be stored in one of several caches around the country in preparation for the next fire. The station’s shower trucks and Incident Catering Services truck planned to leave on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, 155 personnel were assigned to the fire. On Thursday, that number will drop to 100, Lyon said.

Bearer, who also planned to leave Thursday, said he appreciated the support Montezuma County residents have shown the team during its week in Dolores. Locals have sent about 150 thank-you letters to the firefighters, and businesses around town have put up signs thanking them for their service.

“We know that local businesses and visitors are inconvenienced because their vacation plans change, and it hurts businesses when the forest is closed, and in spite of that, people have been very cooperative and very gracious, and we appreciate that,” Lyon said. “It could be a long summer if we don’t get rain, and we’re going to need people’s continued patience and cooperation.”

Lyon said that, as of Tuesday, an estimated $1.8 million had been spent on fighting the Burro Fire. No structures have been lost, and only three injuries have been reported among the fire crews: a case of dehydration, a minor hand burn and, on Tuesday night, a minor head injury resulting from a firefighter getting hit in the head with a rope.