A wildfire, dubbed “The Needles Fire,” broke out about 3 p.m. Wednesday near Purgatory Resort. Two single-engine air tankers and more than 20 firefighters were working the blaze Wednesday afternoon.
Esther Godson, spokeswoman for the San Juan National Forest, said the fire is estimated to be burning in about 3 to 5 acres of mixed conifer near Lift 2 at Purgatory.
Fuels in the area are tinder dry, she said. The 10-hour moisture reading for grasses showed a 2% moisture level, “which is nothing” she said.
“All of our fuels are on the very high end of our fire-danger ratings. Some are rated in extreme fire danger,” Godson said.
The fire is burning near structures, but they were not immediately threatened, and as of 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, no evacuations had been ordered, she said.
Some Facebook posts inaccurately claimed that evacuations had been ordered, she said.
The cause of the wildfire had not been determined and likely won’t be until an investigation is complete, she said.
It hasn’t rained in Southwest Colorado since early September, leaving fuels in the San Juan National Forest dry and fire-prone.
Durango Fire Protection District Chief Hal Doughty said two single-engine air tankers based at the Durango-La Plata County Airport were battling the fire, guided by an air attack platform plane that coordinates tanker drops onto the blaze.
“My crews are on scene out near the ski area, and they are working on getting in a position to where they can start to extinguish the fire,” Doughty said.
The Durango fire department had about a dozen firefighters responding with two engines and an attack tender, Doughty said. In addition, a couple of command staff members were responding.
Firefighters were working from a power line trail to establish an anchor point, and once that was accomplished, they planned to attack the flanks of the fire, he said.
The San Juan National Forest’s San Juan Hotshots, staffed at 10 people, also were on scene battling the blaze, Godson said.
Smoke was visible from U.S. Highway 550, and Godson asked all drivers to keep moving and not to pull over to observe the air tankers battling the blaze or to look or photograph the fire’s plume.
Stage 1 fire restrictions are in place in the San Juan National Forest.
The fire restrictions ban any fires other than fires contained to developed recreation sites that have established cement or metal fire pits. Open blazes are banned.
The fire restrictions also ban smoking except in buildings or vehicles. Also, anyone using a chain saw must have a spark arrestor.
Over the weekend, Godson said three abandoned campfires were discovered, two in the Columbine district and one in the Dolores district.
The Forest Service has taken over management of the fire.
Godson said an incident commander from the Columbine Ranger District was assigned to the wildfire, but as of Wednesday afternoon, she was not sure who had been named.
The Upper Pine Fire Protection District also sent an engine to the blaze.
In addition, the Forest Service was sending three large air tankers to battle the blaze.
“We feel comfortable with the resources we have on scene,” Godson said.