A small wildfire in a remote section of the San Juan National Forest near the Divide Road (564) has burned five acres and triggered road and trail closures.
The 412 Fire was reported on June 23 by a hiker, and is believed to be caused by lightning that was documented in the area last week. The low-intensity fire is burning in spruce and fir at 10,100 feet in elevation, near the Ryman and Salt Creek trails, about 5 miles east of the Roaring Fork trailhead in Montezuma County.
Fire officials said that because of wet conditions at the high elevation, they will allow the fire to burn for ecological benefits. Crews will closely manage the fire within the predetermined boundaries and let it play its role in making the forest more resilient to future fire, insect or disease.
“Firefighters will continue small burnout operations to contain the fire within predetermined boundaries by utilizing existing forest roads, trails and natural barriers, such as green meadows,” said Patrick Seekins, Dolores District Fire Management Officer. “Managing this fire to play its natural role within the ecosystem will provide for long-term ecosystem health and integrity of the forest.”
About 65 U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management crews were assigned to the fire on Tuesday, including the Columbine Wildland Fire Module, Storm Peak Wildland Fire Module, Craig Hotshots, four engines, one water tender, a fire prevention officer and various support personnel. Fire officials were conducting patrols in the Roaring Fork drainage along Forest Road 435 to the east and north along Forest Road 564 to Scotch Creek along Forest Road 550. Undeveloped private land lies 5 miles downslope to the west, but there are numerous natural barriers that will limit fire spread to the west.
Ground ignitions to control the fire were expected to resume on Wednesday, and additional ground ignitions, as well as aerial ignitions by helicopter, will occur as weather conditions allow.
Fire management will entail some area road and trail closures, including Roaring Fork Road (435), Scotch Creek Road and Hotel Draw Road (FS 550), Forest Road 564, Corral Trail, Salt Creek Trail, and Ryman Creek Trail.
A helicopter from Northern Colorado Helitack was also on scene to assist firefighters. Seekins said the fire was burning at ground level.
“Only heavy dead and down fuels are burning right now, resulting in a low- to moderate-intensity surface fire,” he said. “These conditions are different compared to lower elevations, where cured cheatgrass and dry pinon-juniper could make it difficult for us to control a fire.”
Smoke is expected to be visible from Colorado Highway 145 at times.
Travel restrictions will be posted on roads along with roadside signs posted alerting the public to fire operations. Nighttime smoke may settle downslope in valleys to the south and west along Colorado 145 in the Dolores River Canyon.
Updates on additional closures will be announced as the fire grows within the boundaries determined in advance by fire officials. The boundaries will use existing forest roads, trails and natural barriers.
Road and trail closures will be posted on the ground with suggested reroutes. Closures so far are:
The portion of the Highline Colorado Trail between its intersections with the Clear Creek Trail No. 547 and Hotel Draw Road No. 550Big Bend Trail No. 519, Salt Creek Trail No. 559 in the Hermosa Creek WildernessRoaring Fork Road No. 435)Scotch Creek Road No. 550.1 and Hotel Draw Road No. 550Divide Road No. 564Corral Trail No. 521Salt Creek Trail No. 733Ryman Creek Trail 734/735Other actionsMontezuma County commissioners on Monday announced a fire ban effective July 1. Open fires and use of fireworks are prohibited. Exceptions include commercial enclosed incinerators, residential charcoal and gas barbecue grills, and welding within a 20-foot radius free of vegetation with fire extinguishers on hand. Burn barrels equipped with quarter-inch screens shall be allowed during the fire ban when conducted in a 20-foot radius free of vegetation.The National Weather Service announced that a red flag warning was in effect Tuesday and Wednesday in Montezuma and Dolores counties because of gusty winds and low humidity. A red flag warning means wildfires could start easily and grow rapidly, becoming difficult to control. Mesa Verde National Park on Monday banned open fires throughout the park, effective Saturday, July 1. Pressurized gas stoves and contained charcoal grills, such as Weber or Smoky Joe grills, are permitted at Morefield Campground and the Chapin picnic area, but no open wood-burning fires are allowed in campground fire rings or anywhere else.The Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Field Office, including Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, on Tuesday announced Stage 1 fire restrictions on BLM-administered public lands in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose and San Miguel counties. Restrictions include bans on using a fire, campfire or stove fire. Tobacco smoking is banned unless in an enclosed building or vehicle or in a barren area 3 feet in diameter cleared of flammable material. Exceptions include petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns or heating devices are allowed, as well as fires in constructed, permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed recreation sites.The Colorado Department of Transportation on Tuesday suspended roadside maintenance operations in Southwest Colorado because of dry weather and the risk of grass fires. The area includes activities on U.S. Highway 160 from the Four Corners Monument to Pagosa Springs; U.S. 491 and Colorado Highways 141, 90 and 97 along the western edge of Colorado state in Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel and Montrose counties; and Colorado highways extending south from U.S. 160.