The Burro Fire grew to about 500 acres by Sunday morning in a remote area of the San Juan National Forest about 23 miles northeast of Dolores. Firefighters looked to gain a foothold on its southern end to launch an offensive.
Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and several local fire departments responded about 4 p.m. Friday to the wildfire, about 5 miles south of Colorado Highway 145 along the Bear Creek trail.
The fire scorched 3 to 5 acres by 5 p.m. Friday. By 6:30 p.m., the fire grew to 40 acres, said Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla, who was at the scene. Saturday night, the fire, which was burning in ponderosa pine and fir on a northeast-facing wall, was mapped at 493 acres by a multi-mission aircraft. The fire rapidly moved downslope and southward into Bear Creek drainage, Padilla said, and on Saturday was burning on both sides of Bear Creek and spreading northeast. Containment was zero percent.
“We are working to establish an anchor point on the south end of the fire so we can engage,” said Pat Seekins, Dolores District fire management officer.
Campers were evacuated, and hikers have been directed to safety, but no structures or private land were threatened, according to the Dolores Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest.
San Juan National Forest technician James Godwin was stationed Saturday at the closed Forest Service Roads 561 and 350 near the Transfer Campground. Dispersed campers, including a large ATV group, were told to leave.
“Everyone has been compliant and understands it is for public safety,” Godwin said.
Jeremiah Frane’s family had to pack up and leave. “We are making the best of it,” he said.
Roads and trails closedThe Colorado Trail was closed from Molas Pass to Junction Creek. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office was conducting a sweep of the trail from the eastern side, while San Juan National Forest staff conducted a sweep from the west. “The sweeps of the trails are going well with no issues and minimal contacts with anyone,” the San Juan National Forest said in its evening update.
The Roaring Fork, Gold Run and Bear Creek trails, as well as Forest Road 435 and Hillside Road (Forest Service Road 436) were closed Friday. About noon Saturday, the San Juan National Forest expanded the closure area, shutting down a section bounded by the Divide Road (FSR 564), Roaring Fork Road (FSR 435), Scotch Creek Road (FSR 550), Windy Gap Area Road (FSR 350), Spruce Mill Road (FSR 351), and Upper Hay Camp Area Road (FSR 556).
The closure prohibits all public entry into the closed area, including campgrounds, trails, trailheads and National Forest System roads. It will remain in effect until July 31 or until rescinded, though it can be extended because of fire activity. Violations of the closure carry a penalty of at least $5,000 and six months in prison.
The existing order to close the Hermosa Creek watershed remains in effect.
Air quality, weather worsenOn Saturday morning, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment issued an air quality advisory for portions of Southwest Colorado, including northeast Montezuma County, because of the smoke from the Burro and 416 fires. If visibility is less than 5 miles in your area, smoke has reached an unhealthy level, the press release said. Residents with heart disease or respiratory illnesses as well as the very young and the elderly, are most vulnerable.
The National Weather Service forecast for Sunday called for 8 percent humidity, 30 mph wind gusts, and temperatures in the mid-80s. A red flag alert was in effect because of the heightened risk of fire, and Stage 2 fire restrictions were in effect throughout the San Juan National Forest.
Crews look to engage firePadilla said firefighters from Cortez, Dolores, Rico and the Bureau of Land Management responded to the fire on Friday. Patrick Seekins, Forest Service fire management officer, was assigned as the incident commander.
Padilla told a Journal reporter at the scene that 30 to 40 firefighters were involved with the blaze. On Saturday, Seekins said on-site resources included two engines, eight smokejumpers and three hand crews, with two more hand crews on the way.
The Dolores Ranger District has been preparing for an active fire season, and said local firefighting resources were available to fight the Burro Fire without pulling crews from other fires.
The Type 3 federal firefighting crew has not yet requested mutual aid from local fire districts at this point, said Mike Zion, Chief of the Dolores Fire Protection District. Zion also emphasized that because of severely dry conditions, it was important that local fire crews be held in reserve to respond to a new fire.
Hitting new wildfires quickly with air support dumping water and fire retardant is critical, Zion said, and the state has agreed to pay for the first 24 hours of planes and helicopters on any fire.
“The state recognizes how important it is to get control of these fire right away, and have given chiefs the authority to order air support if needed,” Zion said.
A San Juan National Forest press release at 8 p.m. Friday confirmed said that no resources were diverted from the 416 Fire north of Durango, 13 miles away on the opposite side of the Hermosa Creek watershed.
“The resources were available from local and pre-positioned out-of-the-area resources,” the press release from Cam Hooley said. Hooley added that fire retardant has been ordered. By sundown, it had been applied to the fire.
The cause of the Burro Fire has not been determined, but Padilla said the area had seen some lightning earlier in the week. The fire was reported by a medical helicopter, and is still under investigation.