Burro Fire slows Wednesday night; rain on horizon

Thursday, July 5, 2018 4:14 PM
Firefighters haul branches away from a new contingency line near the Burro Fire.
Firefighters walk through a finished section of a contingency line in the area of the Burro Fire.
Firefighters at work bucking a felled tree, or cutting it into logs that will burn more quickly than a full log. Bucking is one of several techniques fire crews are using to reduce potential fuel around the Burro Fire.
“Heavy dead and down” trees near the Burro Fire. Firefighters are working to clear away these dead trees and branches to reduce the amount of potential fuel along containment lines.

The Burro Fire’s growth slowed down on Wednesday after a day of moderate temperatures and 23 percent humidity.

The wildfire, which continues to burn in the Bear Creek Trail area near Rico, grew 15 acres on Wednesday, reaching a total of 4,593 acres. According to a Thursday news release, the San Juan Hotshots, a crew that was reassigned this week from the 416 Fire, has begun work connecting the bulldozer line at the northwest end of the fire to Colorado Highway 145, with help from the two crews already assigned to the fire. The National Weather Service predicted more mild temperatures and humidity on Thursday.

The fire began June 8 in Bear Creek Canyon near the Gold Run Trail. It remains 40 percent contained. Its cause has not yet been determined, according to Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.

“The weather has been very favorable, which is a great help,” Russell said. “Fire behavior has been quite low.”

She said her headquarters in Dolores got a brief rain shower Thursday morning, and she hoped for more to come.

An infrared mapping flight Wednesday night showed no areas of intense heat in the Burro Fire, but the pilot’s log said the view was obscured by clouds, which could have concealed some heat sources.

The damp forecast is a “mixed blessing,” Russell said. With increased chances of storms come increased chances of erratic wind that could stoke the flames, and of lightning that could start more fires. The cloud cover also hampers infrared mapping and other technology, she said.

But she added that clouds, whether they drop any precipitation or not, help firefighting efforts by keeping ground temperatures cooler.

In response to increased fire activity over the weekend, the number of personnel at work on the fire increased to 47 this week with the arrival of two new fire crews on Monday. Russell said they aren’t taking the cooler weather for granted, and plan to continue work on the new contingency line to Highway 145.

“So far the Burro Fire is going very well, but ... the time to take precautions is before you need them,” she said.

Many federal firefighting resources are being diverted to bigger disasters like the Spring Fire and 416 Fire, she said, which gives the Burro crews all the more reason to take advantage of the Hotshot crew’s training and resources while they’re available.

Firefighters are removing logs and dead trees from a line about 30 yards wide along a slope roughly parallel to the Morrison Trail, according to the release. Russell said they are leaving healthy trees and foliage alone for the most part, although they may remove the lower branches on some trees to reduce their chances of catching fire. The contingency line is designed to protect the highway from possible fire growth, and to make it easier for firefighters to contain the flames.

Padilla estimated the cost of fighting the Burro Fire at $2.9 million as of Thursday morning.

Smoke was heavy in the air around Dolores Thursday morning, but Russell said it likely came from other nearby fires rather than the Burro. Due to its lowered activity, the Burro Fire has been putting out very little smoke lately, she said.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment published an air quality health advisory for La Plata County and northeastern Montezuma County Thursday morning, predicting “moderate to heavy smoke” in the area through Friday morning.

Highway 145 remains open, and according to the release, fire crews don’t expect it to close anytime soon. McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores River between Dolores and Rico are also open. The Colorado Trail remains closed between Molas Pass and Junction Creek, and the Hermosa Wilderness is also closed.

Stage 2 fire restrictions are in effect throughout the San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management property. There is a fire ban throughout Montezuma County.

The release warned drivers to use caution on forest roads near the Burro Fire, since firefighters may be using them.