Firefighting, Wildland Firefighting

Colorado Wildfires Feed on Beetle-Ravaged Forests

Wildfires spread to an estimated 66,200 acres Saturday in spruce-beetle-ravaged forests, continuing to imperil tourist towns near Colorado’s San Luis Valley, reports the Denver Post.

The West Fork fire complex, which now includes the fast-growing Papoose wildfire west of Creede, was fed by chaotic and often-intense winds and was the largest of more than a dozen wildfires around the state.

The ravaging by spruce beetles of thousands of acres of Rio Grande National Forest over the past decade “made it just inevitable that something would set it afire,” Mineral County Commissioner Scott Lamb said.

“This is probably far from over, if the weather doesn’t change,” he said. “Wind is the most important factor in firefighters’ ability to contain the fire.”

Forest Service-contracted firefighting crews from Montana to the Dakotas approached in equipment-laden vans as shifting winds gusted at speeds up to 40 mph, fanning flames northward toward Creede.

“Hopefully we can do things” and slow these wildfires’ movement, U.S. Forest Service information officer Anne Jeffry said in South Fork. However, the ability to attack big walls of flames directly was limited due to heavy fuel, wind and long-term drought conditions, Jeffry said.

“There’s really nothing we can do when it is roaring and growing in the beetle kill,” she said.

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