The start of summer means the start of wildfire season, a potentially devastating time of year that could be exacerbated by human folly and carelessness.
Early forecasts predict a dangerously dry year, as there has already been several wildfires in southwest Colorado that were started by lightning this week, including the South Fork Fire, which has burned 14 acres so far northwest of Nucla.
The Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Southwest District explained the fire is the largest of eight fires started by lightning last weekend, according to a news release Tuesday.
“The fire is in a remote area with minimal access routes, making direct attack difficult and a safety risk for fire suppression personnel. BLM crews are currently deployed on the fire with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (CO DFPC) helicopter providing air support,” according to the release. “Fire managers from BLM, CO DFPC and Montrose County are in partnership to actively manage the fire. 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.”
No structures or private residences were in danger, and the fire’s behavior was described as “creeping with interior single tree torching,” as of press time Wednesday afternoon.
“The South Fork fire warrants applying a full suppression strategy, but due to its remote nature and out of concern for firefighter safety, we are using indirect tactics on portions of the fire” acting southwest district fire management officer Randy Chappell said in the release. “Despite the current red flag conditions, the natural barriers and scars left by the 2018 Bull Draw fire will assist in suppressing the fire. Expect to see an increase in smoke and fire behavior as portions of the fire move to identified control features.”
Smoke from the South Fork Fire, as well as fires in Arizona’s Coconino National forest, blanketed surrounding areas this week.
While lightning was the culprit in South Fork, most wildfires are caused by people who don’t adhere to best practices when camping or enjoying the backcountry. An unintended campfire or the flick of a finished smoke can be the start of a catastrophic fire.
With more and more recreationists enjoying the beauty of the San Juans, especially with the return of tourism, local officials launched a public campaign this summer, and are urging people to check conditions before heading out and be prepared in case a large wildfire does ignite.
“We understand visitors are here to enjoy themselves and recreate, and we hope they do, but they must be good stewards of our land, pick up after themselves and have awareness that wildfire risks are real, and it is critically important to be smart with their actions,” said Susan Lilly, San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office public information officer. “We all need to know simple measures that can help prevent fire, and also what to do if we are faced with an emergency situation that requires evacuation. This wildfire education campaign is aimed at helping to improve that awareness.”
There are currently no fire restrictions in San Miguel County, but that can change in an instant. Lilly suggested signing up for CodeRED alerts at sanmiguelcountyco.gov/codered, checking fire restrictions at
“There are a few things people can do to help stay safe, in general, and prevent wildfires. The first is to be prepared when venturing into the backcountry. There are few simple things that can end up being life-saving, and that’s why we repeat the backcountry preparedness mantra,” Sheriff Bill Masters said, pointing out backcountry preparedness includes checking the weather, bringing extra food and water, having proper personal safety items like a first-aid kit.
“This is a year-round practice, and just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you won’t need extra food, water and appropriate gear to spend the night in freezing temperatures in case of an emergency. We need people to recognize that wildfire risk is one of our biggest threats this summer to our lands and to our lives. Everyone, residents and visitors alike, should sign up for CodeRed emergency notifications in the event there is a wildfire or an emergency for that matter that requires action. We are forecasted to have a very dry summer, and wildfire risk is real. Lightning strikes can start fires, human error can start fires, do your part to help save our land, and potentially, lives.”
Masters added, “It doesn’t require much for a wildfire to start and spread, whether from a campfire left unattended or not fully extinguished, or sparks from a lawn mower, or a car parked on dry brush. Most wildfires are human caused. Don’t be that person.”