Colorado wildfires: Five burning nearly 4,000 acres on Western Slope

Firefighters with air support were preparing to suppress a blaze burning on 95 acres northeast of Fraser in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, west of metro Denver — one of at least five fires burning around western Colorado.

Lightning likely ignited this Devil’s Thumb fire but the cause remains under investigation, authorities said. While the fire wasn’t contained late Tuesday, rain overnight may have helped to squelch hotspots, Grand County Sheriff officials said in a posting on Twitter. On Wednesday, the Arapaho-Roosevelt Type 3 Incident Management Team took control of the fire.

The fires are burning amid concerns that “red flag” weather in much of western Colorado — warm, windy, and dry conditions combined with forest fuel — may lead to increasingly severe fires. Lightning ignited at least three of the fires — a natural process that, if not interrupted to protect people, leads to the revitalization of forests.

Devil’s Thumb fire

No evacuation orders had been issued in the Fraser area. The Devil’s Thumb fire apparently broke out Tuesday in the wilderness near the Devil’s Thumb Trailhead, about 7 miles northeast of Fraser. Firefighting ground crews responded around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, and helicopters lugged buckets of water toward flames. The fire was burning in forests where mountain pine beetles have killed trees and wind has blown dead trees down to the ground.

Forest Service officials declared “a full suppression” approach to the fire, even though it was burning in the wilderness, saying they were prioritizing the safety of firefighters.

Spring Creek fire

Firefighters south of Parachute on Wednesday still were battling the 2,940-acre Spring Creek fire that broke out around June 24 on private land in Garfield County. More than 500 firefighters, with air support, were trying to attack flames and hotspots.

The proximity to oil and gas industry wells and other infrastructure has complicated firefighting, forcing crews to carry monitors to detect hydrogen sulfide or other toxic and flammable gases that could be released if flames reach industrial facilities. Federal firefighting coordinators on Wednesday deemed the fire 37% contained.

No injuries have been reported on this fire, which has spread eastward into the White River National Forest. The cause hasn’t been determined. No evacuations were ordered.

Coal Mine fire

In southwestern Colorado, the Coal Mine fire in Archuleta County had burned across 286 acres, about 18 miles north of Pagosa Springs. More than 140 firefighters on Tuesday were trying to suppress it, and supervisors pointed to weather conditions favorable to fire. They issued an update declaring the fire 95% contained.

Chris Mountain fire

About 12 miles west of Pagosa Springs, the Chris Mountain fire has expanded, burning on 491 acres Wednesday morning, devouring Ponderosa pine and other trees, according to the latest information posted on a federal fire data website. A total of 529 firefighters were deployed. Authorities said lightning ignited the fire.

Firefighters have relied on helicopters hauling water and air tankers loaded with fire retardant in their efforts to contain and suppress flames. This fire is burning in the San Juan National Forest. It was classified as uncontained.

Arkansas Loop fire

Another fire burning in southwestern Colorado, the Arkansas Loop fire on Southern Ute land 25 miles east of Ignacio, had burned across 127 acres, according to information on the federal fire data site. Lightning sparked this fire, too.

Firefighting coordinators reported that “red flag” warm and dry conditions in the area were raising concerns. They listed the fire as 50% contained on Wednesday morning. Firefighting crews were working to snuff flames that were “smoldering” and, in some areas, “creeping,” fanned by wind toward fuels. They had to navigate steep and rugged terrain.

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