Burro Fire expands in Bear Creek as forest dries out

Friday, June 29, 2018 4:22 PM
A Burro Fire crewman back-burns an area of the San Juan National Forest on a bulldozer line above Bear Creek Canyon.
Courtesy photo

This aerial shot shows the proximity of the Burro Fire in the Dolores Valley and the 416 Fire in the Animas Valley to the east.
The majority of growth in the Burro Fire occurred in the northwest portion of the heat perimeter, according to an infrared mapping flight about 10:35 p.m. Thursday.
Dry fuels and hot weather are causing the Burro Fire to flare up. Here, flames approach the containment line near the top of Bear Creek Canyon.

The Burro Fire grew by 300 acres since Thursday to 4,136 acres, and is expected to continue growing because of dry fuels and hot, windy weather.

The fire is creeping down Bear Creek and has spread toward the northwest and northeast into the Grindstone Lake area.

Containment remains at 40 percent along the southwestern border, where a bulldozer line has been installed along the rim of Bear Creek canyon.

Overall, the wildfire has been “very manageable,” said Patrick Seekins, Dolores District Fire Management officer.

While it has slowly moved toward Colorado Highway 145, fire officials do not expect to make it to where there is private property and residences. Evacuations orders are not warranted, Seekins said.

The fire is mostly in Bear Creek Canyon and has moved toward Indian Trail Ridge and the Colorado Trail. In some places, it has backed up to the containment line on the southwest near the firefighters base camp.

The fire also is active in the canyon at the intersection of Bear Creek and Little Bear Creek. It is burning in a mosaic pattern, less in aspen groves, but hotter and faster where there are downed fuels and mixed conifer. Fire behavior includes single and group tree torching, but no crown runs across the forest.

“Southwest winds have been blowing it back on itself, keeping it in the canyon and helping us out,” Seekins said. “The rains brought us seven days of improved fuel moisture, but now it is back to the very dry fuel conditions we started with.”

Burnout operations are being conducted along the fire side of the bulldozed containment line to reduce the momentum of the fire if it moves up the canyon sides toward the line, said Andy Lyon, public information officer.

Additional clearing and control lines beyond the main containment perimeter are also in place if the fire spots across, he said.

“If it gets passed our containment, we have three more lines built,” Lyon said.

An unmanned aircraft system, or drone, is being deployed by certified members of the Unaweep fire crew to monitor Burro Fire behavior.

Rico and Telluride have experienced smoke in their valleys the past couple of days, but it is mostly from the 416 Fire burning high in the Hermosa Valley, Lyon said.

There is still a chance the 416 Fire and Burro Fire could merge. But Seekins said on the Burro side, there is less fuel available for it to propel it over Indian Trail Ridge, thanks to scree fields and less timber.

“On the 416 side, there is some mixed conifer all the way to the top, so it could find a lane there,” he said.

There are about 50 firefighters on the Burro Fire. More are stationed locally if needed on the Burro, or if another fire breaks out.

Areas near the Burro and 416 fires remain closed to public entry, including segments of the Colorado Trail. The Hermosa Creek Wilderness is closed.

The Dolores River is accessible between Dolores and Rico. The San Juan National Forest has reopened most trails and roads, including the shoreline of McPhee and House Creek campgrounds and the House Creek Road and boat ramp.