The Horse Park Fire has scorched 1,240 acres in a remote area between Dove Creek and Norwood, triggering pre-evacuation orders. But firefighters are making progress on containment, fire officials said.
A larger Type 2 firefighting unit took over on Tuesday, and more crews are working to suppress the fire, said Shawna Hartman, public information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Blue Team in Norwood.
“We’ve made good progress on the north and south sides at strengthening the containment lines,” she said Thursday. “The next two days will be challenging due to high winds.”
The fire has stayed at 1,240 acres since Tuesday, up from 1,048 on Sunday. It is 50 percent contained, up from 5 percent on Tuesday. No injuries or structures have been reported.
The San Miguel Sheriff’s Office has issued pre-evacuation orders for residents in the Sandy’s Fort Pass and North Mountain areas east and southeast of the fire.
“Pre-evacuation means be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice by packing up essential items and medication. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and have a plan on where to take your pets and animals,” said Susan Lilly, public information officer for the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office.
She said deputies have been going door to door to inform residents.
There is also a road closure near the fire at Road 28T and Highway 141 to prevent onlookers from getting too close to the fire. Landowners and fire personnel will still be allowed to get through, Lilly said.
There are 272 fire personnel involved with the Horse Park Fire, with about 80 stationed in Norwood and almost 200 fighting the fire, Hartman said.
An infrared flyover conducted Tuesday evening revealed the fire was at about 1,240 acres, a smaller footprint than the 1,500 acres reported on Tuesday.
“There are unburned pockets of fuel within that acreage creating a mosaic pattern within the fire perimeter,” Hartman said.
The fire is burning moderately through piñon-juniper and Gambel oak, but could flare up Thursday, fed by 20-35 mph southwest winds and warmer, dry weather. The focus will be on strengthening containment lines where winds could push the fire, Hartman said. The area is relied on by ranchers, so firefighters are working to protect grazing lands and ranchers’ cabins.
The fire is burning near the Spring Creek Basin wild horse herd and has not crossed the management area boundary. It is also burning just outside the boundary of the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area.
Hartman said firefighting efforts and a plateau on the fire’s western flank are preventing the fire from crossing into the wild horse range, where 65 horses are managed by the BLM under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
TJ Holmes, a BLM volunteer who helps manage the herd, said Tuesday that the horses were not threatened. The fire didn’t enter the herd management area, she said, and is burning northeast of the boundary.
“It does not seem like the horses are in any danger,” she said. “The fire appears to be moving north. We are very appreciative of the firefighting efforts.”
Holmes said she saw planes and helicopters drop slurry and water on and near the fire Sunday through Tuesday. Helicopters carrying water were hitting hot spots on Wednesday and Thursday, officials said.
The fire also is burning in an area of Gunnison sage grouse habitat. The bird is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Hartman said precautions are being taken to protect the grouse, including limiting the use of bulldozers to cut fire lines and informing firefighters about its sensitive nature.
The fire was caused by lightning about 10 p.m. May 26 in San Miguel County near Disappointment Valley. It is burning on Bureau of Land Management and some private lands.
Fire behavior started out erratic, but has since become more moderate to mild. It could flare up because of expected winds this week. There continues to be single-tree torching, and small runs.
Dry fuel moisture is driving the fire, with conditions close to the dry years of 2002 and 2012, which saw many fires, Hartman said. Ignition probability, a measure of likelihood that a spark hitting fuel will flame up, is 97 percent. Fire crews are working a quarter mile around the fire to check for spot fires caused by embers.
Federal and state firefighters are attacking the blaze from ground and air. Local fire agencies in Gunnison, Norwood, Hotchkiss and Telluride have also helped in the fight. Roads are being used for firebreaks, and a previous burn to the north of the fire is expected to aid firefighting efforts.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. Our goal is 100 percent containment,” Hartman said. The 50 percent containment line includes the southern, western and part of the northern perimeter.
The fire was burning so strong on Monday that it forced fire crews to retreat, according to a report in “Wildfire Today.”
A video released by the Hotchkiss Fire Department to “Wildfire Today” showed a wall of fire as fire crews retreated in trucks and off-road vehicles.
“We’ve got to go. Go, go!” a firefighter shouted as they pulled away from the flames. “We’re safe now.”
According to a statement by the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office, the Horse Park Fire was moving quickly and “in a remote area with limited potential to spread to a populated area. To that end, we encourage everyone to remain calm and stay out of the area.”