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Colorado: West Fork Fire now over 100,000 acres

The West Fork/Windy Pass wildfire footprint as of July 4, 2013.

The West Fork/Windy Pass wildfire footprint as of July 4, 2013.

West Fork Fire is now second-largest in Colorado history, after the 2002 Hayman Fire

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Feeding on more beetle-killed spruce trees, the West Fork Fire grew by more than 10,000 acres in the past 24 hours and became only the second wildfire in Colorado to burn across a footprint of more than 100,000 acres.

The largest recorded fire in Colorado was the 2002 Hayman Fire, which spread across more than 137,000 acres before it was extinguished. The third-largest fire was last summer’s High Park Fire.

The West Fork Fire Complex, burning the San Juans of southwest Colorado, is now about 20 percent contained, and firefighters have been able to create defensive lines near some of the developed facilities in the area, including Wolf Creek Ski Area. Rugged terrain and the abundance of beetle-killed trees have prevented firefighters from making a direct attack on the fire in many areas.

Progress toward containment has been made where there is minimal risk to firefighters, enabling direct attacks and establishment of secure fire lines.

All but one of Colorado’s 15 largest wildfires have burned in the past 10 years, lending support to the idea that climate change is now a significant factor in the wildfire equation, as warmer temperatures drive drought and beetle kill. Decades of fire suppression most likely set the state for the infernos of the past 10 years.

For more details on the West Fork Fire Complex, visit www.InciWeb.org.

The wildfire outlook for the rest of the summer from the National Interagency Fire Center:

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Colorado: Fire danger creeps up in the high country

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The fire danger is currently rated as high in most of Colorado’s north-central mountains.

BLM lands in NW Colorado already under Stage 1 fire restrictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a bone-dry June, some public land managers in Colorado are starting to enact fire restrictions to lessen the chances of a human-caused wildfire start.

Summit County only picked up about 15 percent of the long-term average precipitation in June, for example with .19 inches at the official National Weather Service site in Dillon, compared to the average 1.14 inches. High temperatures for the month were about 4 degrees above average.

The White River National Forest (Eagle and Summit counties) hasn’t issued any restrictions yet, but lands administered by Bureau of Land Management in  parts of northwest Colorado have been under Stage 1 restrictions since June 27. Continue reading

Colorado: West Fork Fire grows to 90,000 acres

Smoke impacts extend to Pagosa Springs

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By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The West Fork Fire Complex grew to more than 90,000 acres late in the week, as shifting winds drove the flames in new directions and sent a thick layer of smoke down the San Juan River Valley, where an inversion kept the smoke hanging low over the town of Pagosa Springs.

Firefighters say they’ve achieved about 2 percent containment with a series of dozer lines that may help prevent the fire from escaping in unwanted directions on some fronts. More than 1,500 firefighters and 20 aircraft are involved in the efforts to suppress and control the fire.

In one area around Trout Creek, the fire advanced four miles in less than two hours, according to the most recent report posted at InciWeb.org. Firefighters were able to do a successful burnout to protect cabins in the area. Continue reading

Colorado: East Peak Fire partially contained, West Fork Complex still burning unchecked

Firefighters focused on structure protection

A NASA satellite image shows the size of the smoke plumes blowing off the West Fork Fire Complex in southwest Colorado.

A NASA satellite image shows the size of the smoke plumes blowing off the West Fork Fire Complex in southwest Colorado. Visit this NASA website for more.

A view of the East Peak Fire. Photo courtesy Don Degman and InciWeb.org.

A view of the East Peak Fire. Photo courtesy Don Degman and InciWeb.org.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A slight let-up in the intense fire-weather conditions in southern Colorado enabled firefighters to gain a solid foothold against the East Peak Fire, where officials Monday evening reported 50 percent containment of the blaze on the eastern flank of the Spanish Peaks, above Walsenburg.

The huge West Fork Complex, which has spread across a 75,000-acre footprint around the Wolf Creek Pass area, is still burning more or less unchecked. During a briefing Friday, incident commanders said the fire is likely to continue until there is a significant shift in the weather. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Most viewed stories

Wildfires and water top the list

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Summit Voice page views the past 30 days pretty much spanned the globe, with a few gaps in central Africa and Greenland.

FRISCO — Wildfire stories dominated the Summit Voice most-viewed list the past week, as readers from around the country watch Colorado’s tinder-dry forests go up in smoke. But a great photo essay by Jenney Coberly documenting the quick rise of Dillon Reservoir made it onto second place as the only other story to crack 1,000 views.

Coverage of Colorado River and water issues continued with an interesting look at some alternatives for overall management of the river that could help avoid the dreaded “compact call.” when Lower Basin states would demand their share of the river’s water, potentially leaving some Upper Basin users high and dry.

Water: Does the Colorado River compact need tweaking?

We also took a closer look at the planned cleanup of the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, where the EPA will potentially spend up to $3 million to reduce acid mine drainage that’s polluting Peru Creek and the Snake River.

Colorado: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup set to begin

And a few more highlights:

 

Southern Colorado wildfires spread across 80,000 acres

More red flag fire weather expected Sunday

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Wildfires are burning across Southern Colorado.

The West Fork Fire complex viewed from along the Old Spanish Trail. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org.

The West Fork Fire complex viewed from along the Old Spanish Trail. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildfires in drought-stricken southern Colorado have burned more than 80,000 acres in the past week and are starting to reach the scale of “megafires” seen in New Mexico and Arizona the last few years.

Extended drought set the stage for the West Fork Complex Fire and the East Peak Fire in more ways than one: Vast stands of spruce forests at the higher elevations of the San Juans were killed by insects recently, while warm temperatures and lack of precipitation led to tinder-dry fuels, from the forest floor up to the crowns of trees.

The West Fork Fire Complex, burning northeast of Pagosa Springs, has grown to more than 70,000 acres, according to an Inciweb.org update posted Sunday morning:

“The West Fork Complex consists of three wildfires, West Fork, Windy Pass, and Papoose. All fires are burning in steep, rugged terrain with large amounts of beetle-killed spruce which makes it difficult and unsafe for firefighters to mount a direct attack.” Continue reading

Colorado: West Fork Fire complex grows to 53,000 acres

Aerial attack moderates fire, ground crews focus on protecting homes

FRISCO — Growing to more than 50,000 acres, the West Fork Fire Complex has darkened skies around southwestern Colorado and continues to threaten the small town of South Fork, in the San Juan foothills. Emergency contact information is consolidated on this InciWeb.org web page.

Firefighters described the fire’s behavior as almost unprecedented late in the week, as the flames raced for miles through beetle-killed spruce forests mixed with live trees dessicated by persistent drought.

Firefighters are having a hard time finding a place to make a direct attack because of the extremely rugged terrain and dangerous forest conditions, but a concerted aerial attack did help moderate the fire on its eastern flank, according to a Saturday afternoon update on InciWeb.org. Continue reading

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