Though it may seem early, summer wildfire season throughout the West is in full swing.
Skies were smoky in the west end of San Miguel County and surrounding areas over the past week, as the South Fork Fire burned 14 acres in a field northwest of Nucla. The lightning-caused wildfire, which was the largest of eight, was considered 100 percent contained Friday, according to a Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Southwest District update.
No structures or private residences were in danger, and “fire resources were able to secure the fire perimeter last night, and a few fire resources remain on scene to work hot areas within the interior. This will be the last update for the South Fork Fire,” the latest update stated.
BLM crews, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control helicopters and Montrose County officials worked together in quickly extinguishing the flames, which were “in a remote area with minimal access routes, making direct attack difficult and a safety risk for fire suppression personnel,” according to the district’s initial announcement June 7. “ … Fire resources are engaging the fire in areas where they have a high probability of success protecting values at risk, while reducing risk to fire personnel.”
The Pack Creek Fire, which was started June 9 by an unattended campfire, is still raging in Utah’s Manti-Lasal National Forest, 14 miles southeast of Moab.
As of press time Tuesday afternoon, the fire had burned 8,243 acres and was considered 16 percent contained, and 426 people had responded to the scene.
“The fire grew moderately on Monday, and incident managers have assigned a new group of firefighters in the areas of new fire spread. More engines (fire trucks) have also been assigned for structure protection efforts east of Geyser Pass,” according to a Tuesday update posted on the Incident Information System website inciweb.nwcg.gov. “These resources will be preparing homes and the surrounding vegetation to minimize fire intensity should embers or a fire front move toward structures. Previous structure protection efforts were focused in Pack Creek and along the ridges on its west flank, but work there is nearly complete.
“Additional containment is expected (Tuesday) on the western perimeter near Pack Creek and Brumley Creek, and crews are working to limit fire spread any closer into the Mill Creek drainage. Homes aren’t the only values at risk from the fire. Infrastructure on Bald Mesa provides internet, radio and other communication services throughout Southeast Utah, and multiple power lines serve mountain residences and the community of Castle Valley.”
At the beginning of the week, officials expected significant spread, given the weather conditions and path of the flames.
“Firefighters continue to work on accessible portions of the fire in steep and rugged terrain. With current weather and fire behavior, we expect large fire growth on the #PackCreekFire. As you go outside in the Moab area you will expect to see and smell smoke,” according to a San Juan County Sheriff’s Office update posted on social media Monday.
There are also nearly a dozen wildfires burning in Arizona and New Mexico right now, which may make for more smoky skies throughout the county, said Susan Lilly, San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office public information officer. She recommended checking airnow.gov for the latest air quality updates.
Local officials also recently launched a wildfire awareness campaign in an effort to educate people about the dry conditions and heightened chances of wildland fires in the region. Signing up for CodeRED alerts at sanmiguelcountyco.gov/codered, checking fire restrictions at westslopefireinfo.com/san-miguel-county, and studying info on emergency preparedness and wildfires at bit.ly/SMCprepared are the best ways to stay informed.
While there are currently no fire restrictions in San Miguel County, a majority of the area is experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions (just under 67 percent of the county), which is characterized “dust storms and topsoil removal are widespread” and “agricultural and recreational economic losses are large,” according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. The D4 categorization is the highest on the system’s four-level scale. The entire county is considered to be in “extreme drought.”
An “experienced” local climber, who has not been publicly identified, was injured and flown by medical helicopter to Grand Junction’s St. Mary’s Hospital Monday night after falling 30 feet in Ophir’s Cracked Canyon, according to a San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office news release posted on social media.
The technical rope rescue lasted four-plus hours, and required 35 members from the sheriff’s office, Telluride Fire Protection District, and San Miguel County Search and Rescue.
Ophir Road was limited to one-way traffic, while the mission caused Cracked Canyon to be closed for the rest of the day.