West Fork Complex Fire Grows To Nearly 80,000 Acres

Credit: KCNC
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Three fires have combined forces and are now burning 79,182 acres as of Tuesday morning.

It's created a collective monster, spewing an enormous cloud of smoke, sending ashfall across multiple counties and causing hundreds to evacuate.

The fires remain separate, but there are fears that they could converge if winds pick up.

The biggest of the fires, which are known together as the West Fork Complex Fire, is immediately threatening the town of South Fork, which is about 50 miles southwest of Alamosa. At zero percent containment and doubling by the day, there were fears Friday that the flames would engulf the town. The entire town, population 400, was evacuated that morning as firefighters descended upon it to make a stand.

The fire remains outside the city limits, according to the Rio Grande Sheriff's Office.

That fire is also threatening the town of Creede. The Sheriff's Office say Creede is under a "soft evacuation," or a pre-evacuation status.

The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team, with Pete Blume as Incident Commander, has been assigned to the east zone of the West Fork Complex.

The Type 1 Team is working in conjunction with the Phoenix National Incident Management Organization (NIMO), with Curtis Heaton as Incident Commander, to manage the three fires that make up the West Fork Complex. Due to the size and complexity of the complex, it has been divided into two zones with the Continental Divide as the general breaking point.

The biggest fire, known as the West Fork Fire, started after lightning struck in the San Juan National Forest backcountry on June 5, and exploded this week. It is by far the biggest of three and the most out of control. Officials said its behavior on Thursday was "so extreme it was undocumented and unprecedented." It's reportedly actively burning 12 hours a day--while the average fire generally burns four.

The second fire ignited on June 13, also caused by lightning. Much smaller than the West Fork Fire, that fire is burning in a bowl of dead spruce south of the Wolf Creek Ski Area, and growing at a much slower rate. It's known independently as the Windy Pass Fire. Its size is unknown.

The third fire started Friday night west of the town of Creede. Known as the Papoose Fire, it is currently the most active of the three fires.

There have been no reports of injuries at this time, but there has been a report of a citation; one man was ticketed and escorted out of the South Fork area Saturday for allegedly impersonating a firefighter.

There have also been no reports of damaged structures.

Below is further information about the three fires from the Colorado Office of Emergency Management as of Tuesday morning:

East Zone of the West Fork Complex (Includes Papoose and Eastern Part of West Fork Fires)

A night shift has been established for this zone which includes the Papoose Fire and the portion of the West Fork Fire that is north of the Continental Divide. Several engines are monitoring the fire overnight and providing structure protection where necessary.

Papoose Fire

On the west flank of the fire, firefighters are developing a plan in the event that the fire crosses Squaw Creek and threatens the Rio Grande Dam. If the fire crosses the drainage, they will use firing operations to help back the fire down to the dam. Along the north and northwest flanks, firefighters will continue to provide structure protection and will be evaluating structures further north on Highway 149.

Eastern Part of West Fork Fire

On the northeast and east flanks, firefighters will continue to provide structure protection along Highway 149 and near Lake Humphreys and Metroz Lake. Structure protection is in place east of Highway 149 in the event that the fire pushes to the east and crosses the highway. Firefighters in this area will be evaluating structures and monitoring the fire activity. On the south flank, along Highway 160, firefighters will continue to work to keep the fire north of the highway.

West Zone of West Fork Complex (Includes Western Part of West Fork and Windy Pass Fires)

Western Part of West Fork Fire

The West Zone of the West Fork fire is the portion of the fire burning south of the continental divide. There continues to be moderate fire activity on the south flank of the fire above Borns Lake and farther to the west. Firefighters will complete installing and testing a sprinkler system to protect Bruce Spruce Resort and other structures along West Fork Road today. Structure protection for Borns Lake remains in place.

Windy Pass Fire

The Windy Pass Fire had some active burning on the west flank of the fire in beetle kill yesterday and went from 1,244 acres yesterday to 1,355 acres by this morning. With winds expected to come from the west today, firefighters are hoping to be able to use retardant drops to slow or stop the progression of the fire into Waterfall Creek. Crews will continue to work on contingency lines protecting the Wolf Creek Ski Area and monitor the contingency line on the south end along East Fork Road.

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