Evacuations lifted in South Fork; No containment for West Fork, Papoose, Windy Pass Fires

Fires have burned 90,056 acres; No containment

SOUTH FORK, Colo. - Despite the West Fork Complex of fires making a big run on Thursday, some evacuations are being lifted in South Fork.

Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton made the announcement at a meeting Friday morning, saying some residents can return home but must be ready to leave on a moment's notice.

"This is an active fire zone and people returning are responsible for their own safety," fire officials told 7NEWS.

Residents will need to stop at the Red Cross Shelter or South Fork Visitor's Center to obtain a re-entry form.

Some of the major subdivisions that have reopened include Dakota Park, Ponderosa, Deer Park, Hudson Track, Sentinel Mountain Estates and Log Haven.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the tourist town of South Fork one week ago.

Evacuations remain in place for Masonic Park west of the Rio Grande River and Elk Park.

-- Still no containment on fires --

The out-of-control wildfire made a "run" Thursday, burning more than 7,000 acres when heavy winds pushed the fire into an area of bug-killed Englemann Spruce trees, according to fire officials.

The Papoose Fire burned 4 miles in under two hours, according to incident managers.

Firefighters had to deal with wind gusts of more than 40 mph as thunderstorms moved through the fire zone.

The West Fork Complex is three wildfires -- the Papoose Fire, the West Fork Fire and the Windy Pass Fire. The fires are burning near highways 149 and 160 between Creede, South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area. The fires have burned 90,056 acres. There is no containment.

During Thursday's "run," the fire spread several miles to the southeast, officials said.

-- Papoose Fire --

On the northwest flank, the fire continues to be active in Crooked Creek, according to a news release.

Officials said there were also several spot fires of 5 to 20 acres in the Hermit Lakes area Thursday. 

"Due to the extreme fire behavior, firefighters were pulled off the line temporarily," officials said. "Once fire activity tempered, firefighters returned to the area and began suppressing the spot fires."

The fire also established itself in Trout Creek. However, officials said firefighters burned around several structures in an attempt the defend the homes.

"At this time there is no reported structure loss," officials said Friday morning.

Firefighters are expecting another active day Friday.

-- West Fork Fire --

Firefighters are battling the West Fork Fire on several fronts.

The fire made a run of about one mile Thursday afternoon in beetle-killed spruce in the Weminuche wilderness that put up a column of smoke during the day.

"It was well within the wilderness boundary and did not pose any threats," officials said. "Structure protection is in place for Bruce Spruce Resort, which is still open, and mitigation measures have been taken in the West Fork Campground that is also open."

The West Fork Fire is also active near Metroz Lake and Elk Mountain.

At Lake Humphreys and Metroz Lake, firefighters continue to provide structure protection.  Near Elk Mountain, firefighters said they are utilizing a combination of hand line, dozer line, hose lays, and aircraft as delaying tactics to slow the progression of the fire as it moves towards a more defensible position on the lower slopes. 

-- Windy Pass Fire --

Officials said activity on the Windy Pass Fire Thursday was minimal. 

"Crews will be re-enforcing and maintaining existing contingency lines during the day today," incident managers said.

-- Fighting the fire --

Firefighters are concentrating on two jobs -- fighting the fire and protecting structures.

"The fires are being managed using a combination of full suppression, point protection, and monitoring as identified within the Management Action Points developed in the long term plan," incident commanders said on the fire information website, Inciweb.org.

Firefighters are working to create and improve a fire line west of Sentinel Peak, Haney Canyon to road 432 and off the ridge down to Rio Grande Reservoir, according to incident managers.

Structure preparation was completed in the Bruce Spruce Campground and structure protection remains in place in the West Fork-Borns Lake Area, Wolf Creek Ski Area, South Fork and subdivisions along Highway 149.

There are 1,561 fire personnel on scene.

The Federal Aviation Administration is installing a portable tower at the Durango Airport due to the volume of aircraft flying in the area in support of the fires.

The West Fork Complex Fires have been burning since June 5. The cause of the fire is lightning, according to Inciweb.org.

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