FORT GARLAND — In the crowded Blanca-Fort Garland Community Center Gymnasium, residents evacuated from the Spring Fire heard from the handful of officials heading up the efforts over what has happened the last 24 hours.
The information that was given, however, was frustrating for some.
“It started yesterday,” explained Phil Daniels, public information officer for Fire Prevention and Control, “and got very aggressive late in the afternoon and into the evening. The firefighters that are out there have worked through the night, but so far a lot of their efforts have been overcome by the very dry fuel conditions and the weather.”
The Spring Fire in Costilla County started at approximately 4:15 p.m. on June 27. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
Another group of managers and firefighters are coming into the area and taking over the operation first thing Friday morning, ones that are more experienced with this level of fire.
“They will do regular briefings for everyone that has been affected,” he said, adding that he didn’t have a time schedule of when that will take place. He also said there will be some sort of social media such as Facebook or Twitter that will be updated with the most recent information.
The fire is nearly 24,000 acres as of Friday morning, has no containment at this time, and has reached into Wagon Creek subdivision. Evacuation orders are in place for Forbes Park and Wagon Creek in Costilla County. Roads into the area are closed. Highway 160 as of Thursday night was closed between Fort Garland and La Veta.
By late Thursday, the Spring Fire was burning in both Costilla and Huerfano counties, with ash and smoke falling into Pueblo, according to State Rep. Donald Valdez, who is reporting a significant increase in acreage from just a few hours earlier.
San Isabel Electric members also have been advised that there were approximately 200 meters without power in the Forbes Park area between La Veta and Fort Garland due to the Spring Fire as of Thursday evening. Because of the fire, crews were unable to enter the area to make repairs.
There have been some structures lost. Daniels would not elaborate on where the structures were located or how much damage had been done to this point.
“We do not know who they belong to, and we do not know the addresses,” Daniels said. “As a building goes down, the addresses sometimes go with them, and a lot of street signs are gone.”
But they’ve also made a lot of saves, he stressed.
“Don’t be concerned until there’s a reason to be,” he said. “The firefighters up there are working very hard, and the team coming in will also be working very hard to limit the impact on you and get you back into your properties.”
Highway 160 is currently open, while the roads leading into Forbes Park and Wagon Creek are closed.
“It is getting bigger,” said Daniels. “And until we get a significant change in the weather, we’re going to be chasing it and not be able to fight it and get in front of it.”
There will be information boards posted at the shelter and possibly around the Valley to let people know what is going on. These boards will be updated as new information comes in.
Bill Werner, the Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross, urges people to leave their contact information with the shelter, and to check in to the evacuation center for messages.
“Call in,” he said. “We’ll have staff 24 hours a day, and we’ll check the board for you and let you know if you have any messages.”
A phone number will be established shortly.
The center is also is setting a Safe and Well site so that residents can check on the well being of others living in the impacted area. There will also be case workers on site starting on Friday morning, so as residents find out about their properties, there will be people there to assist them with recovery efforts.
Chris Rodriguez, with Costilla County Emergency Management, also spoke.
“Our first priority is life safety,” he said. “That includes all of the brave firemen and police personnel that are with the fire right now.”
He pointed people to slvemergency.org or the twitter at slvemergency.
“We are regularly updating these with the latest information.”
There will also be behavioral health personnel on site if anyone needs to talk to somebody.
He also stressed the importance of registering for a “rapid tag” which will allow residents to enter their property as soon as they are able.
“We don’t want to be allowing people in there that do not have the right to be in there,” Rodriguez said. “We want to make your going to your house, and not anybody else.”
“This isn’t going to be a quick, turnaround event,” he said. “We’re here for you, and we’re going to try to give you as much information as we can.”
They are planning to have daily updates every day at 1 p.m. at the center.
“Be patient with this,” he ended with. “I know it’s hard. I am so sorry for all you are going through, but we’re going to get through this together.”
Sylvia Lobato contributed to this report.
Caption: State Representative Donald Valdez captured the spreading flames of the Spring Fire on a visit to the site on Thursday. The fire had encompassed thousands of acres, with zero containment as of Thursday night.