SOUTH FORK, Colo. - More firefighters are arriving to battle the out-of-control West Fork Complex of fires in southern Colorado. There are now more than 1,400 fire personnel assigned to the fire.
The fires are still growing. On Wednesday morning, officials reported that the complex of three wildfires -- the Papoose Fire, the West Fork Fire and the Windy Pass Fire -- had burned 83,004 acres. The fires are burning near highways 149 and 160 between Creede, South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.
On Thursday, officials announced the West Fork Fire had grown to 55,118 acres, the Papoose Fire grew to 26,483 acres and the Windy Pass Fire grew slightly to 1,403 acres. There is no containment.
Fire officials tweeted Thursday that they are concerned about windy weather and lightning. They are expecting gusts of up to 20 miles per hours Thursday.
-- West Fork Fire --
Fire officials said the northeast flank of the West Fork Fire is most active near Elk Mountain.
Crews are once again providing structure protection along Highways 149 & 160.
"Sprinklers set up near structures; used if fire pushes east," officials tweeted Thursday.
Wednesday officials said structure protection sprinklers had been installed at Bruce Spruce Resort and that part of the sprinkler system at Borns Lake were run this week to increase humidity and fuel moisture.
Firefighters also remain near Lake Humphries and Metroz Lake to provide structure protection.
-- Creede & The Papoose Fire --
The Papoose Fire remained active Wednesday night on the west and northwest flanks of the Papoose Fire.
"[Firefighters] wrkd thru night to reinforce hand lines and protect structures [sic]," officials Tweeted.
The fire burned near Workman Creek overnight, past structures, but there was no loss reported.
The fire also pushed into Crooked Creek and towards the Rio Grande Dam. Officials said they are doing burns along Squaw Creek to remove fuels before the fire gets there.
-- Windy Pass Fire --
Good news from the Windy Pass Fire. Officials said Thursday that the immediate threat to the Wolf Creek Ski Area has diminished.
Firefighters said they expect to tie off the contingency line along the west side and around to the north end of the fire.
"They are taking advantage of natural features such as aspen stands, meadows, rock slopes and existing road and trails," incident commanders said in a news release.
-- Evacuations --
The communities of South Fork and Wagon Wheel remain evacuated. Highway 149 remains closed although the public has been allowed to drive on the highway between South Fork and Creede, but only once an hour and by following a pilot car. Highway 160 remains closed to traffic from West Fork Road on the west end and west of the city limits of South Fork on the east end.
The West Fork Complex Fires have been burning since June 5. The cause of the fire is lightning, according to the fire information website, Inciweb.org.
About 50 miles of the Colorado Trail through the Rio Grande National Forest and about 150 miles of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail on both the Rio Grande and San Juan national forests are closed to public access as a result of the fires.
-- Smoke from Colorado reaches Europe --
Preliminary observations by the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite indicated the West Fork Complex fire lofted smoke plumes as high as 8.4 miles into the atmosphere. Satellite observations also show that smoke reached European airspace by June 24.