SW Colorado Burns 91,000 Acres, 2 Percent Contained

The SW Colorado fire, named the West Fork Complex Fire after it combined with the Papoose and Windy Pass blazes, is still burning, though residents were allowed back into their homes on Friday.

The fire has already burned close to 91,000 acres on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass. It is just two percent contained as of Saturday morning.

The evacuation order was lifted for most South Fork residents on Friday. However, those living west of Colorado 149 or the Rio Grande River are still under mandatory evacuation as 1,400 firefighters work to control the blaze.

Despite 1,400 firefighters, Laura McConnell, a spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team, stated that the terrain makes the fire more difficult to fight. It is also harder to measure containment as a means of success.

The West Fork complex fire is burning through thick spruce beetle-killed forests, which are only accessible in spots by goat paths. The canopy in the area is also so thick that flame retardant simply sits on tree tops, instead of seeping through to the ground below.


Despite this, McConnell stated that firefighters have been able to keep the SW Colorado fire from decimating 100 homes in the area. She added, “It’s just now the fire’s reaching a point where they can kind of go offensive with it instead of defensive.”

And on their side, finally, is the weather, as some isolated areas got about a quarter inch of rain on Friday. But not all has gone well. High winds on Thursday pushed the flames into another area of beetle-killed trees, causing the fire to grow by 7,000 acres.

Along with the flames, smoke is a big concern for the communities of Del Norte and Creede, along with the South Fork residents allowed back in their homes. Low humidity and the possibility of lightning also caused a Red Flag warning on Saturday as firefighters continue using water drops and flame retardant drops to contain the fire.

[Image via NASA GSFC]