Plateau Fire reaches 19,554 acres as interior pocket burns

Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 3:58 PM
A low-intensity fire burns inside the containment line of the Plateau Fire on Aug. 16.
Courtesy photoSmoke rises from the ground in the interior of the Plateau Fire north of Dolores on Aug. 16.
The Plateau Fire’s progression as of Aug. 16.
Courtesy photoSpike camp on the edge of the Placteau Fire.
Road closures near the Plateau Fire, as of Aug. 14.

The Plateau Fire reached 19,554 acres this week – up 3,254 acres since Aug. 12 – as green areas inside the containment area burned.

The fire’s containment also increased, reaching 95 percent, up from 93 percent on Aug. 12.

Fire personnel was rapidly downsized during the week as a local, Type 3 team took over from a federal team that fought the fire during its period of dangerous growth. Here’s a look back at the week’s daily reports from the two management teams.

Friday: Fire team downsizesOn Saturday afternoon, the local, Type 3 team announced that it would hand over management of the fire to a smaller, Type 4 team as the firefighting effort winds down. Firefighting personnel was downsized to 18.

The public information office closed at 5 p.m. Saturday, and the new team took over on Sunday, the Type 3 team said.

The fire area on Friday received additional rainfall, but the fire will continue to smolder and produce smoke, the Type 3 team said. The heaviest rainfall came on the east side of the fire, near Dolores-Norwood Road (Forest Service Road 526).

Firefighters were expected to continue to monitor the fire and repair damage caused by perimeter fire lines.

Thursday: A big burn-offOn Friday morning, fire managers announced that the Plateau Fire had grown 1,766 acres after burning a large patch of contained forest within the fire’s northeast section.

The fire grew to an estimated 19,554 acres and 95 percent containment. Thirty-seven fire personnel connected to the local, Type 3 team led by Jerran Flinders remained on the job.

The fire burned a large patch of contained forest within the fire’s northeast section of the fire perimeter, and though the fire produced a lot of smoke, flames ignited mainly on the ground among needles and other low-lying fuels.

Looking ahead, fire managers said that after the burn-off, Thursday would be the last day of significant smoke.

The management team also announced that the unburned area in the southwest corner near McPhee Reservoir was no longer expected to burn. Before turning over command to the current Type 3 incident command last week, the Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Black had predicted that most or all the green areas within the containment lines would burn. The local, Type 3 team assumed command at 8 p.m. on Aug. 14.

Light smoke was expected to continue as the fire smoldered and occasionally flared up, and the fire management team asked that residents not be alarmed unless they spotted fires outside its containment lines.

Wednesday: Fire area coolsOn Thursday morning, fire managers reported that cloudy skies, light rain and higher relative humidity helped keep the fire’s growth to 20 acres, all within containment lines.

The fire grew to an estimated 17,778 acres, and containment remained at 95 percent.

Firefighters spent the day felling hazard trees and extinguishing hot spots within 135 feet of the fire’s perimeter. Fire personnel who completed a fire line assessment noted that leaves on small shrubs and aspen were starting to fall, which could restart fires as they ignited on smoldering debris.

The management team also announced that it would soon begin to rehabilitate fire lines, which might include seeding areas, moving debris and chipping debris.

The temporary flight restriction in the Plateau Fire area was lifted at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Aug. 14: Working at the gapOn Wednesday, the local, Type 3 team that assumed command of the Plateau Fire announced that a flight at 12:30 p.m. showed the fire grew 425 acres during the morning, primarily on its northeast side and along the walls of Beaver Canyon. Based on the previously reported estimate, the fire grew to 17,669 acres.

Fire activity continued Tuesday afternoon, and firefighters patrolled containment lines and extinguished hot spots.

The last gap in the containment line was on the north-northwest sides of the fire, south of Glade Road (Forest Service Road 514). It lay in rugged terrain that has proved too dangerous for hand crews to build a line.

The Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Black, which fought and managed the fire during its strongest growth, turned over command of the fire to Type 3 incident commander Flinders at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Flinders’ team began dismantling the incident command center at County Road W and Dolores-Norwood Road on Wednesday morning and planned to set up a small camp near the northwestern edge of the fire.

The firefighting force downsized rapidly, from more than 300 on Aug. 12 to 47 on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment issued an air quality advisory for much of the Western Slope, effective until 9 a.m. Wednesday. Air quality in the Four Corners area remained “moderate.” Vulnerable residents included the old and very young, as well as residents with respiratory and heart ailments.

Aug. 13: Command transitionsOn Tuesday, the Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Black, led by incident commander Shane Greer, announced that the Plateau Fire had grown to 17,344 acres, up 1,044 from the fire team’s estimate on Aug. 12.

Monday’s containment was estimated at 95 percent, up from 93 percent on Aug. 12.

Firefighters said they made progress containing the Plateau Fire on Aug. 13 on the northern edge of the fire, where a few small sections of uncontrolled fire line remained. Firefighters patrolled the remainder of the fire’s perimeter, extinguishing hot spots and improving contained areas along the way.

Temperatures rose throughout the day, and active fire behavior was expected in interior pockets of unburned fuel, which produced visible smoke. The areas were expected to continue to burn until the fire ran out of available fuel.

Rocky Mountain Team Black announced that it would return command of the fire to a local, Type 3 management team.

Aug. 12: Team Black takes a bowThe Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Black announced during a public meeting at the Dolores Community Center on Aug. 12 that the Plateau Fire grew to 16,300 acres over the weekend but was 93 percent contained.

A gap in containment on the fire’s northwest edge was all that remained, members of the team said, and full containment was expected in late August. The blaze made a significant run southward toward residences the previous week, fueled by northerly winds, dry fuels and hot weather. On Aug. 12, the Plateau Fire area received scattered rain showers.

Full containment was expected Aug. 30, and the cost of the fire was an estimated $3 million.

The larger, Type 2 firefighting crew arrived Aug. 9 and continued previous efforts to establish containment lines at Forest Service Road 529 on the south, the Dolores-Norwood Road on the east and Forest Service Road 514 on the north. McPhee Reservoir also was part of the containment line.

“Overall, we have had good success,” said Phil Daniels, operations section chief for the Rocky Mountain Area Team Black. “The fire will burn out on its own.”

On Aug. 12, 326 firefighters worked on the fire.

About 1,500 acres of unburned forest within the fire’s contained perimeter was expected to burn, sending smoke to the West Fork and Dolores river valleys.

Road closuresOn Aug. 12, Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin lifted the pre-evacuation notice for the Granath Mesa area north of Dolores on Aug. 12, and the San Juan National Forest later announced that the Dolores-Norwood road and House Creek Road and campground were open.

The closure encompassed an area bounded roughly by McPhee Reservoir on the west, Forest Service Road 527 on the east, FSR 514 on the north and the San Juan National Forest boundary on the south. Evacuations were not mandatory.

The Dolores-Norwood Road (FSR 526), the Boggy Draw trail system and Overlook Trail also have reopened.

Nowlin and Plateau Fire public information officer Pam Wilson encouraged drivers to remain cautious on the Dolores-Norwood Road, which travels north from Dolores through the San Juan National Forest. Firefighters and smoke will still be in the area.