Firefighters worked Monday and Tuesday to manage a wildfire north of Arboles in southeast La Plata County, allowing it to increase in size to 700 acres, which will remove fuels and improve forest health.
The fire grew to 530 acres Monday with help from a helicopter crew that dropped fire ignition devices from the air to help spread the fire within a predetermined boundary. Ground crews finished spreading the fire on Tuesday ahead of an expected rainstorm, said Pam Wilson, spokeswoman with the Durango Interagency Type 3 team managing the fire.
The areas that still needed to be treated with fire were fairly small, between 35 and 40 acres. Crews planned to use drip torches and pingpong-like balls injected with glycol and potassium permanganate to light the unburned areas, she said.
“I think it will go pretty quickly,” Wilson said.
The lightning-caused fire was first detected Thursday in the Pine Tree Canyon area and was allowed to burn on Southern Ute land to play its natural role on the landscape by consuming dead wood, forest undergrowth and materials left behind by forest thinning, she said.
“There are no values at risk in terms of homes or infrastructure,” she said.
The team had expected to burn 700 acres by the end of the day Monday, but the work got off to a slow start, in part because of weather conditions, Wilson said. Mornings tend to have higher humidity, lower temperatures and fires are less active in those conditions, she said.
Firefighters have put in dozer and hand lines around the potential burn area to contain it, Wilson said. About 76 personnel are assigned to the fire, as well as several engines and a helicopter crew, according to a news release.
Smoke was expected to be visible from Buck Highway (County Road 521) and the U.S. Highway 160 and Colorado Highway 151 corridors, according to the release.
The smoke was expected to be less visible Tuesday because fewer acres will be burned, Wilson said.
Firefighters are expected to continue monitoring the fire over the next one to two days to ensure all the hot spots are out and it does not spread, she said.
The fire will likely smolder for four or five days after the ignitions, she said. Monsoonal rains may be coming into the area later this week, which could help extinguish the fire, Wilson said.
The fire is not expected to lead to problems with flooding because it is a low-intensity burn, and there are still materials in place to hold the topsoil, Wilson said.
No roads are closed near the fire, but the public is encouraged to avoid Ignacio Canyon Road because fire vehicles will be using that road.