Burro Fire grows northwest toward Colorado Highway 145

Monday, July 2, 2018 6:55 PM
An aerial photo of smoke from two wildfires burning in the San Juan National Forest taken June 29. The Burro Fire is in the foreground and the larger 416 Fire looms in the background.
The smoke plumes from the 416 Fire north of Durango, left, and the Burro Fire east of Dolores, right.
Courtesy photo

Trees erupt into flames near a bulldozed containment line June 27 on the Burro Fire.
A firefighter back-burns an area of the San Juan National Forest at the edge of the Burro Fire, burning east of Dolores.
Courtesy Photo

Member of the Unaweep Fire Module fly a unmanned aerial aircraft to gather information on the Burro Fire.
Courtesy photo

A chipper is used along the Burro Fire containment line to remove fuels away from the incoming fire.
The 416 Fire as seen Saturday from La Plata Canyon.
Courtesy photo

The Dolores River remains open for recreation, including fishing and swimming to escape the heat.

The Burro Fire grew by about 135 acres over the weekend, reaching a total of 4,437 acres in the Bear Creek Canyon area.

On Saturday, the fire showed growth along its northwestern, southwestern, southeastern and eastern borders, according to the log from an infrared mapping flight conducted at 12:07 a.m. Sunday.

On Sunday, the flight at 12:05 a.m. showed areas of intense heat near bulldozer lines in the vicinity of West Mancos Road, Aspen Loop Trail and the Highland/Colorado Trail.

Another flight about midnight Sunday showed a number of small areas of growth, including to the southwest across the Aspen Loop Trail. The fire is also moving to the northwest, southwest of Bear Creek toward Colorado Highway 145. As of Sunday, the fire was about 4 miles from the highway. According to the infrared report, heat is detected north of the fire perimeter along Little Bear Creek, and north of the perimeter south of Grindstone Trail.

Containment remained at 40 percent.

The Burro Fire is less than 2 miles from the 416 Fire, which burns east of the Colorado Trail. The 416 Fire grew by 1,767 acres Sunday, bringing the total area burned to 51,068 acres. As of Sunday, it had cost $26.4 million to fight.

On Sunday, Burro Fire crews planned to reinforce fire control lines and remove hazardous fuels in the northwestern section near Little Bear and Bear Creek trails and in the southern section near Windy Gap. The eastern section, which roughly parallels the Colorado Trail, remained unstaffed.

Firefighters continued to created back burns along the bulldozer line in the northwest section to remove trees and other fuels that could help the approaching fire cross the containment line. So far, back-burn crews were staying ahead of the fire, incident commander John Norton-Jensen said in a press release on Sunday.

The National Weather Service issued a dense smoke advisory was in effect from 10 p.m. Sunday to 10 a.m. Monday along U.S. Highway 160 east of Hesperus through Bayfield and along U.S. Highway 550 from Coal Bank Pass south to the New Mexico state line.

The forecast called for a continued drying trend, with high temperatures in the middle 70s and relative daytime humidity of 13 to 17 percent and nighttime humidity of 20-30 percent.

On Saturday, Norton-Jensen said firefighting resources will be called in if necessary.

“Everything has dried out in the past week and a half and we’re seeing more and more fire activity each day, but our fire lines are in place, and we have a plan to manage it,” he said in the release.

Public information officer Andy Lyon said the fire continued to move slowly toward Colorado Highway 145, but he doesn’t expect it to reach the road before the monsoon begins.

Firefighters have been working with property owners along Colorado Highway 145 on protection plans if the fire reaches that area.

To help decide which homes and other structures can safely be protected in a wildfire firefighters use what they call structural triage.

“When a fire gets close to those homes we don’t want to be reacting, we want to be ahead of the game and have a preplan in place to protect those structures,” Norton-Jensen said.

Structure triage is a quick and efficient way to assess multiple structures in a timely manner. Instead of pen and paper, they now use smart phones.

They record the location of the house, the type of fuel around the house, whether it has a metal roof, if there is water near by, and what type mitigation is needed such as cutting brush or moving flammable material away from the home.

“It will give us an idea of the equipment I’ll need and the amount of manpower and hours that will take,” said fire specialist Ian Barrett, of the Bureau of Land Management.

Having the information available before hand can save 25 minutes if the wildfire approaches that property,” Barrett said.

“Especially if the fire is very proximate to the house, that 25 minutes could be the difference in the home burning down or being protected.”