More firefighters arrive as blaze shuts down La Veta Pass

Monday, July 2, 2018 6:49 PM
U.S. Highway 160 was closed Monday to eastbound and westbound traffic over La Veta Pass because of the Spring Creek Fire.
The Spring Creek Fire showed continued growth both to the north and south, with intense heat and isolated heat sources out in front of the fire.

DENVER – Crews struggled to rein in a wildfire that was spreading in several different directions Sunday in southern Colorado.

More firefighters were arriving to battle the blaze that has prompted the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes.

“It’s a very challenging fire, I’ll be honest with you, with all the wind changes,” Shane Greer, an incident commander with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, told residents Sunday.

Authorities said the fire east of Fort Garland was estimated at 64 square miles after unpredictable winds pushed the fire both north and south over the weekend.

About 500 firefighters have worked to contain the flames since the fire began Wednesday. A second team arrived in the area Sunday and plans to take over fighting the fire north of Highway 160.

The first team will focus on the area south of the highway.

“Usually with a fire we can chase it ... we haven’t been able to chase this because it keeps going in at least three different directions,” Greer said.

Authorities said they began assessing some areas this weekend to track destroyed or damaged structures. But they cautioned that conditions remain dangerous and said they want to be sure that information is correct before notifying property owners.

The fire was expected to remain active and grow in intensity with a warm and dry forecast on Sunday.

Highway 160 remains closed and officials said they could not estimate when it will reopen or when the evacuation orders will end.

The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday said a man was being held on suspicion of arson in connection with the fire. It is not clear if Jesper Joergensen, 52, has an attorney.

esper Joergensen, 52, initially said he had started a fire to burn trash on land where he has been living in a camper but then said he had been grilling in a permanent fire pit the day before the wildfire started, the document states.

Joergensen, who reported the wildfire about 205 miles southwest of Denver, said he woke up Wednesday from a nap, smelled smoke and saw a fire burning in sage brush about 20 feet away from the fire pit. He said he tried to put it out but caught a blanket on fire and burned himself.

Authorities haven’t released details on the extent of the fire damage but the arrest affidavit laying out the evidence against Joergensen said about 25 residences had been burned to the ground as of Thursday, when he was arrested.

The document also said three people were initially listed as being unaccounted for after the fire broke out but it’s not clear if those people were later found.

At Sunday’s public update, officials said they do not believe Joergensen started the fire intentionally.

State emergency management officials reported nine other fires remained active around the state on Sunday.