The Burro Fire grew to about 287 acres Saturday afternoon in a remote area of the San Juan National Forest about 23 miles northeast of Dolores.
Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and several local fire departments responded about 4 p.m. Friday to the wildfire, about five miles south of Colorado Highway 145 along the Bear Creek trail.
Stage 2 fire restrictions are in place throughout Southwest Colorado.
Prohibited acts include:No campfires, including in developed campgrounds and recreation areas. No charcoal or coal barbecues or wood-burning stoves. Gas, pressurized cannister powered stoves with shut-off valves are allowed if they are at least 3 feet away from flammable material such as grass.No open burning, burn barrels or agricultural burns without prior approval.No smoking, except for in a building or vehicle.No welding, use of open-flame torches, pipe-fitting, or metal grinding without a fire-watch official present with proper mitigation tools.Oil and gas welding and cutting operations can be done only in an area with a radius of at least 20 feet from all flammable materials.No use of equipment with an internal combustion engine without a properly installed spark arresting device, including chain saws, ATVs and generators.No use of chain saws without a spark-arresting device and a readily accessible fire extinguisher and shovel.No explosives such as fireworks and tracer round bullets.Note that agencies such as the Forest Service may have different restrictions.San Juan National ForestNo traveling off marked roads, trails and parking areas in cars or off-road vehicles.Discharging a firearm, air rifle or gas gun is prohibited on all land in the San Juan National Forest.
The fire scorched 3 to 5 acres by 5 p.m. Friday. By 6:30 p.m., the fire grew to 40 acres, according to Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla, who was at the scene. By Saturday afternoon, the fire, which was burning in ponderosa pine and fir on a northeast-facing wall, was estimated at 287 acres after a mapping flight by a multi-mission aircraft. The fire rapidly moved downslope and southward into Bear Creek drainage, Padilla said, and on Saturday, it was burning on both sides of Bear Creek and spreading to the northeast. Containment was 0 percent, the San Juan National Forest said about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
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 is stationed at road closure Forest Service Roads 561 and 350 near Transfer campground. Dispersed campers were being told to leave, including a large ATV group.
“Everyone has been compliant and understand it is for public safety,” he 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, and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office was conducting a sweep of the trail from the eastern side of the Hermosa Creek watershed, while San Juan National Forest staff conducted a sweep from the western side.
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 also closed an area 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.
The closure will remain in effect until July 31 or until rescinded. It might also be extended because of fire activity, forest officials said. 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 levels that are unhealthy, 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 Saturday called for 8 to 13 percent humidity, 40 mph wind gusts, and high temperatures in the mid-80s. A red flag alert was in effect because of the heightened risk of fires, and Stage 2 fire restrictions are in effect throughout the San Juan National Forest.
The firefightPadilla said firefighters from Cortez, Dolores, Rico and the Bureau of Land Management responded to the fire. 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, including seven or eight smokejumpers, two helicopters and two fire engines.
Padilla said that the Dolores Ranger District has been preparing for an active fire season, and has 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 District. Zion also emphasized that because of the severe dry conditions, it was important that local fire crews be held in reserve to respond to any 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 416 Fire reached 8,691 acres on Saturday, up 1,511 acres from Friday. No structures have been lost, and it remained at 10 percent containment. All evacuations and pre-evacuations remain in effect, which includes 1,625 evacuated homes and 1,272 homes on pre-evacuation. A community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.
Orr said Friday that he didn’t expect the fire, near Colorado 145 mile marker 34, would cause major road closures or ruin anyone’s travel plans.
“It’s in a fairly remote area,” he said.
The cause of the 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.