SOUTH FORK, Colo. - Firefighters are still trying to protect the town of South Fork and homes near Creede as they wait to see if the out-of-control West Fork Complex Fires will change direction Tuesday.
Up until now, the wind has been predominately out of the southwest, pushing northeast, according to Incident Commander Pete Blume. However, the winds are expected to turn east today.
"That will expose fuels that haven’t been exposed to the fire," said Blume who was concerned about the fire's "potential to grow."
Blume said firefighters had been looking forward today, hoping the winds would die down, but that changed overnight.
"Last night the fire weather forecast for the area was revised upward," Blume explained. "We are just under the red flag threshold today, so it’s not exactly going to be a great fire weather day."
The West Fork Complex is comprised of the West Fork Fire, the Papoose Fire and the Windy Pass Fire -- three fires burning near highways 149 and 160 between Creede, South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.
On Tuesday, officials announced an infrared mapping flight measured the burn areas as 54,222 acres burned by the West Fork Fire, 23,065 acres burned by the Papoose Fire and 1,355 acres burned by the Windy Pass Fire. There is no containment.
More than 1,300 fire personnel are assigned to the fire. Teams are working all three fires, because each one is heading for a different area.
-- Creede & the Papoose Fire --
Firefighters battling the Papoose Fire have been concentrating on structure protection along Highway 149.
"The fire had come down through the little Squaw Creek area," Adam Mendonca with the Rio Grande National Forest said. "The fire actually burned around those structures that we had concerns with, but structures were still all intact."
Mendonca said he toured the area Monday night, visiting Masonic Park, Blue Creek and the 4UR Ranch.
"[There's a] lot of good work going on," Blume said. “[Firefighters have] successfully worked the fire around the structures up to this point."
He said the fire had not yet reached the 30-mile area and the campground and structures up there.
Creede is currently not under an evacuation order.
Mendonca said crews are trying to stay ahead of the Papoose Fire because that's where a lot of structures are, but crews have not forgotten the South Fork area.
-- South Fork --
"South Fork is still a major concern, it still represents a community for us," Mendonca said.
While there have been some reports that the fire has burned 1.5 miles from South Fork, Blume said bulldozer crews created a fire break 1.5 miles from town, but the fire is still 3 to 4 miles at its closest point to South Fork.
Blume said Highway 160 will also provide the first line of defense should the fire get closer to South Fork.
-- Windy Pass Fire --
While the Windy Pass Fire is much smaller than the Papoose Fire and West Fork Fire, firefighters are trying to keep the fire from crossing the Continental Divide.
"We still have firefighters deployed up there," explained Medonca.
He said the Wolf Creek Ski Area was still fine when he was in the area Monday night.
-- The Complex of fires --
The trio of fires is considered the highest priority in the country. The fires are burning in a rugged landscape covered by 80 percent beetle-killed trees.
Crews will be using retardant to stop the fire's progress near South Fork on Tuesday. They'll be using water drops on the Papoose Fire, Blume explained.