CHAFFEE COUNTY — From the looks of it Thursday, the Decker Fire burning nine miles south of Salida appeared to be getting worse.
Heavy winds, sun exposure, terrain and fuels all aligned to increase fire behavior, causing smoke to fill the sky over Simmons Peak as flames covered more ground.
While the fire did burn more acreage, the spike in fire behavior wasn't just planned for. Firefighters are using the Decker Fire to clear excess fuel in the national forest with an indirect approach to containing it.
"This increased wind was expected, and this is burning a lot of dead and downed fuel on the forest floor," said public information officer Shawna Hartman.
At last check, the fire has burned 1,150 acres on federal land in Chaffee County.
Thursday's new activity near Simmons Peak will grow the size, but it's also moving toward land already burned as part of the fire, which ignited by a lightning strike on Sept. 8.
Steep terrain poses a challenge to getting firefighters and their engines up on the mountain to fight it. That, along with the fact there are no structures immediately threatened by the fire, is why incident command is taking the indirect approach.
"We wait and put them in a position where they have the highest probability of success in fuels and terrain, where they can be successful in engaging the fire," Hartman said.
Firefighters are taking this chance to let the forest heal itself. The fire is eliminating dead and downed timber, including trees severely destroyed by beetle kill, which could reintroduce some wildlife to the area and actually improve the forest.
"Those fuels have built up on the forest floor, and for just a return to more of a healthy ecosystem, those fuels need to be consumed," Hartman said.
Hand crews prepared an indirect fire break along the northwest side of the fire Thursday to keep it from entering private lands.
There's no estimate on containment at this time.