Firefighters reported major progress was made on the third larges wildfire in Colorado history Thursday.
During the community meeting in Walsenburg, Incident Commander Jay Esperance said the fire is now 35 percent contained. The blaze saw only minimal growth Thursday and through the night.
Friday morning, officials said the slight increase puts the fire at approximately 105,000 acres. Containment remains at 35 percent.
Rain in the area helped slow the advance of the fire, but also created concerns about possible flash flooding in the area. The town of La Veta and areas to the west were under flash flood warnings for most of the afternoon, but all warnings were allowed to expire Thursday night.
At this time, no loss of life or injuries have been reported with the fire, but at least 132 structures have been lost in both Costilla and Huerfano County. That number is down from an earlier number we were told. Damage assessments were done in both counties Wednesday.
Residents in the Forbes Park subdivision will be allowed to return into the burn area on Saturday for several hours to survey their property and to clean up debris.
At least 104 structures burned in the Forbes Park area and another 28 burned in Huerfano County.
The fire was advancing primarily on two fronts. The north side of the fire is burning into Huerfano County and the south side of the fire has threatened the town of Cuchara.
Crews said they have built fire lines around Cuchara and the Pinehaven subdivision.
La Veta Fire Chief David Detray told residents at a community meeting Wednesday "Cuchara will be there when the gates open."
On the north side of the fire, firefighters were able to keep the fire south of County Road 530 and 531. They added that containment has been strong in areas south of Gardner. Highway 160, a major east-west artery in Colorado, has been closed from Fort Garland to La Veta since Thursday, June 27th. Friday morning, CDOT announced the highway will re-open Saturday at 2 p.m. Highway 12 in the Cuchara Valley remains closed south of La Veta.
According to incident command, 1484 firefighters are working the blaze, with 939 of them on the south side.
The Rocky Mountain region is now on a level 4 preparedness level for wildfires. This means more resources will be available to fight the Spring Fire and other fires burning around the state.
He is suspected of arson and immigration authorities say he was an illegal immigrant from Denmark who started the fire on June 27.
Pre-evacuations were expanded Tuesday night on both the north and south forks of the fire, covering a stretch from the Pueblo County line into Las Animas County.
The latest evacuations mean almost the entire western half of Huerfano County is in a pre-evacuation zone or under mandatory evacuation orders. Walsenburg is not included in any evacuation or pre-evacuation orders.
On the north side of the fire, Huerfano County emergency management officials issued pre-evacuation orders of their own stretching from I-25 west to the Custer County line and from Highway 69 north to the the Pueblo County line.
That order includes the communities of Black Mountain, Aspen Mountain, Libre, El Toro, CL&L, Buffalo Ranch, and Eagle Flat Ranch. The towns of Gardner and La Veta are also on pre-evacuation status.
These new orders are in addition to mandatory evacuation orders issued earlier for all residents in the area north of County Road 362 to the county line.
That area includes the the School Creek, Wahotoya Valley, Little Kansas, and East Spanish Peaks communities, the area known as the “Mesa,” as well as the west side of Shangri La.
Mandatory evacuation orders were also issued for the Chama, Redwing, Malachite, and Badito areas south of Highway 69.
Navajo Ranch, Majors Ranch, and homes along County Road 530 south to Highway 160 including Vega Road near Navajo are also under mandatory evacuation orders. Evacuees can leave north to Highway 69 or Highway 160 only going east.
To find out if your area is affected, Huerfano County Emergency Management has a link for residents to receive notifications.
Evacuees from Huerfano County should go to the Red Cross Shelter in Walsenburg at 928 Russell Street Walsenburg, CO 81089.
County officials also opened a new location to receive Rapid Re-entry identification cards at the Upper Huerfano Fire Protection District. That’s located at 25396 CO HWY 69, Gardner, CO and it will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
La Veta Disaster Assistance Center located at 126 E Garland St in La Veta.
Las Animas County
On the south side of the fire, Las Animas County emergency management officials issued a pre-evacuation order for all residents living south of the Huerfano/Las Animas County line to County Road 42. The zone extends east to County Road 21.7 and west to Highway 12.
The area includes all phases of the Cuchara Pass Ranches, Timber Creek Ranch, Timber Ridge at Cordova Pass and the Spanish Peak Ranch Estates. A pre-evacuation order means that anyone living in those areas should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
On the western flank of the fire, The Indian Creek and Trinchera Ranch area moved from mandatory evacuations to pre-evacuations Tuesday. Rapid tags and a second form of ID will be required for re-entry to the fire area.
Homeowners in Forbes Park will likely be allowed onto their properties this Saturday for a few hours in order to survey the damage and conduct clean-up. The Red Cross will be on hand to provide gloves, trash bags, and masks to help out.
That plan may change if the weather does not cooperate or the fire returns to the area. There’s no word on when they may return home after the initial visit.
Officials overseeing the effort reminded people to be aware of hot propane tanks, downed power lines, downed trees, and trees that could come down as they were weakened by the fire. Crews surveying the area are already checking for danger spots before allowing people to return home.
Information on re-entry from San Luis Valley Emergency Management:
Forbes Park Temporary Re-Entry for July 7
Temporary planned re-entry for a 4-hour period for Forbes Park property owners on Saturday, July 7th – 9:00 am through 1:00 pm.
Re-entry will be for units A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and J.
Depending on fire behavior, also planning to allow south-side units K, L, M, N, and P to enter as well. This decision will be made by the 1:00 pm evacuee meeting on Friday 7/6/18.
Everyone in vehicle must have rapid tags to enter.
Rapid tags must be obtained in advance at the DAC (Disaster Assistance Center) at the Fort Garland Community Center. DAC is open 10:00 am – 3:00 pm Friday 7/6, and 7:00-11:00 am on Saturday 7/7.
Check-point will be at the road closure location in Fort Garland, and state patrol will escort cars to Forbes Park Entrance. Entry will start at 9:00 am and residents need to be checked out by 1:00 pm. No extensions will be granted.
American Red Cross will have cleaning kits available at the Forbes Community Center. Additional resources (Victims Advocates, Behavioral Health, and Red Cross) along with dumpsters will be located at the Forbes Community Center.
This temporary re-entry for property viewing. If owners cannot be present at this time, they will be able to enter property after evacuation is lifted at future time to be determined.
Please be aware that wildlife may be present in evacuation area. Please do not approach or disturb animals for your safety and theirs.
Media and general public will not be allowed to enter.
At least 104 homes were burned in the Forbes Park subdivision. That full list can be viewed here:
Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center located at 17591 E. Hwy 160 in Blanca, CO
Centennial High School in San Luis located at 14644 CO-159, San Luis, CO 81152
Official Facebook page for firefighting effort – Spring Fire 2018
Official Twitter account for firefighting effort – @SpringFire2018