Spring Fire increases to 60,710 acres

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FORT GARLAND — There was good news and bad when property owners met privately with incident management officers Monday evening regarding the Spring Fire, which has burned 60,710 acres in Costilla and Huerfano counties, with 5 percent perimeter containment.

The good news is an illegal immigrant from Denmark was arrested for starting the fire while cooking meat in a fire pit, while a Disaster Assistance Center (DAC) is being established at Centennial School in San Luis.

It was announced Monday the DAC would be located at the school, since there is more available space there to provide privacy for landowners seeking help and information.

The DAC opens at 8 a.m. today, Tuesday, July 3, with resources available for individuals affected by the fire.  Services will include information related to public health, housing resources, property clean up and behavioral health.

Confusion over Chama

There is a subdivision area in north Costilla County named Chama that has been evacuated, but this is not the same as Chama, Colorado, which is east of San Luis. Chama town and canyon are not under evacuation.

The bad news

The bad news is the weather remains unstable and a warming trend continues with temperatures approaching 90F. Relative humidity is decreasing and could reach single digits, while winds are from the west-southwest at 10 to 14 mph with gusts nearing 25 mph. These factors align for another day of extreme fire behavior.

Now emitting two distinct columns of smoke, the fire continues to grow every day and moves quickly when it reaches a new area of dense fuel such as heavy, mixed conifer. Outflow winds from passing thunderstorms are a concern, as they could push the fire in any direction. Fire could become active before noon and become very active throughout the afternoon.

The fire is growing to the south-southwest in Divisions N and Z, pushing toward West Indian Creek. Crews are successfully implementing point protection for houses in the South Forbes community.

Firefighters are scouting for opportunities to create indirect line to keep the fire north of West Indian Creek. On the southeast side of the fire, crews are working to construct fireline off Mallott Rd, moving from Division A south and east into Divisions Z and N to keep fire east of Trinchera.

The west and northwest sides of the fire in Divisions A and D continue to hold. The 5 percent perimeter containment is along the northwest perimeter in Division D. Crews are scouting for options for more indirect line running from the ridges back into Highway 160.

On the east side of the fire in Division E, growth has slowed somewhat as the fire moves into lighter fuels. Indirect contingency lines are in progress, anchoring to the 421 Road and Highway 12, with the goal of keeping the fire west of La Veta.

Crews are scouting and identifying opportunities for more fireline construction that will connect into neighboring Division K on the south. Firefighters are performing fuel mitigation and structure preparation in the communities of Piney Ridge and Raspberry Mountain.

On the south side in Division K, the fire has moved south of East Indian Creek and is progressing over the ridges of Raspberry Mountain, continuing downslope through heavy fuels.

While this type of “backing” behavior (downhill growth) does not move as quickly as fire running up hill, the fire is expected to continue moving south/southwest toward Cuchara Village. The geography between Raspberry Mountain and the communities of Pinehaven and Cuchara Village is extremely challenging with significant beetle kill fuel, rough terrain and narrow canyons. This is a difficult area to place firefighters, as there are minimal escape routes should fire intensity change. As fire continues to push south, crews are constructing indirect line around the communities of Pinehaven and Cuchara Village and will prepare structures in this area in the event of fire spread.

On July 1, the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Type 2 Blue Team coordinated with Team Black on management of the fire. The Blue Team began north side management — fire north of Highway 160 — at 6 a.m. Monday, July 2.

Stage 2 Fire Restrictions

Costilla County has Stage 2 Fire Restrictions in effect, banning open burning of any kind, sale and use of fireworks, smoking unless in a closed vehicle or building, operating or using an internal combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order.

The will be no welding or operating acetylene or other similar torch with open flame.

 The Fire Marshal for the Costilla County Fire District, the Costilla County Sheriff and the Costilla County Emergency Management Coordinator have informed and advised the Board of County Commissioners that the present drought conditions require immediate and emergency banning of open fires within all of the unincorporated areas in Costilla County. 

In addition to the banning of open fires, it is necessary, in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents and property in Costilla County.  This ban includes all outdoor burning, slash fire, use of any kind of fireworks, model rockets and all other outdoor spark or flame producing activities.

There is now a portable fire retardant plant east of La Veta. Aircraft will drop retardant on areas where its effects will be successful. Air tankers are in use, and the Spring Creek Fire now has two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters participating in air operations along with currently assigned resources.

For evacuee information in Costilla County visit the San Luis Valley emergency page, www.slvemergency.org/

Also see: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5875/

Caption: A herd of elk forages in the Spring Fire footprint Sunday./Courtesy photo

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