FORT GARLAND — According to the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, the Spring Fire had grown to 23,889 acres and was still zero percent contained as of Friday afternoon. By 10:15 p.m. Friday it had grown to 33,956 acres.
The fire began Wednesday about five miles east of Fort Garland. It was entering Huerfano County and continuing to move eastward along U.S. Highway 160 toward the town of La Veta.
Fuels include piñon/juniper, sage, Gambel Oak, Ponderosa Pine and Alpine Spruce, along with fences and yards. The fire has been running, torching, crowning, .25 mile spotting and is plume dominated.
The cause is still under investigation and authorities would not confirm or deny whether someone had been booked for questioning. The official incident web page is listed the fire as human caused.
Thursday’s efforts were focused on structure protection with the safety of the general public, along with firefighters and other emergency personnel.
Evacuations were facilitated by sheriff’s deputies and aviation resources were used to assist firefighters working on the ground with flame retardant and water drops, which were marginally effective due to strong winds and extremely dry conditions in the area, according to team members.
Rocky Mountain Team Black assumed command at 6 a.m. Friday, June 29, offering an organizational structure that provides a command team well suited to managing large wildfires. Firefighters will continue protecting structures, as well as values, at risk while providing for their own safety as well as that of the public.
The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that some structures have been lost, though the exact number could not be ascertained as they focused on evacuation efforts.
Over the next several days, the sheriff’s office will begin to identify lost structures and ownership. In many cases, road signs are gone, along with property numbers.
While what is found upon return is still unavailable, those who have been evacuated due to the Spring Fire must check into the Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center to be issued a Rapid Tag Identification Card for reentry when conditions allow the evacuation order to be lifted.
The weather isn’t helping. InciWeb says there is a Red Flag Warning with high winds, high temperatures and low relative humidity. Phone service in the area is bad because the La Veta Pass tower is down, said cell phone providers.
By 3 p.m. Friday, the fire had crossed US 160 at County Road 442 to the north. Tres Valles and parts of Major Ranch from CR 520 north to CR 510 and west to the county line were mandatory evacuations, with more very likely.
Evacuees should check in at the Red Cross Shelter at the Huerfano Community Center, 928 Russell in Walsenburg. Proper identification and proof of address will be required to be credentialed. The credential will also serve as an eventual re-entry pass.
With Cuchara under pre-evacuation notices, the Dog Bar there was closed Friday with no opening date announced. The owners said they felt “being safe is the right thing to do.” Most of the employees are from the La Veta area and the management felt their efforts are better spent helping families, neighbors and loved ones prepare in case the wind shifts.
Many bar employees are also on the volunteer fire department and others are helping with livestock displacement and other items that need attention.
With all of the wildlife fleeing the fire area, motorists are asked to be extra cautious while driving US160, through La Veta Pass, which is currently closed, or anywhere near the burn area.
Experts warn that animals, large and small, will most likely be panicked, hot, exhausted and looking for water. “Please don’t intentionally harm any of them; they have just survived a natural disaster and had no choice but to flee their homes.”
“Wildlife fleeing the burn area also means predators will be on the move, so it’s best to keep your pets inside and monitor them when they are outdoors. Tethered animals have less of a chance against a pack of coyotes, so please consider this if you leave your pets tethered during the day and/or night.”