It has been an unpleasant sight near La Veta pass since the afternoon of June 27 when the initial blaze that started one of Colorado’s largest wildfires began to tear through Costilla County.
Plumes of smoke hang over La Veta Pass as a devastating omen of one of the state’s most devastating wildfire seasons. That smoke comes from the Spring Creek fire, which has reached 55 percent containment as of Sunday, but is still on its way to becoming Colorado’s second-largest wildfire, just behind 2002’s Hayman Fire.
The Spring Creek Fire has caused the evacuation of hundreds of homeowners from Costilla and Huerfano counties. Some of those homeowners have already had to embrace the news that their homes have been dwindled to embers while others are still hopeful they will have something left to go home to.
One of the difficulties in containing the fire – which as of Sunday had reached an estimated 107,000 acres – has come from the high winds, low humidity and hot temperatures as well as the rugged terrain that makes reaching the fire a challenge. Even with those challenges firefighters have been able to get what was once looked at as an uncontrollable fire a little more under control.
According to the Twitter account of Spring Creek Fire authorities, “favorable weather conditions allowed crews to continue operations along the east fire edge and provided optimal conditions for a successful burnout operation near Sheep Mountain (Saturday) night.”
They added that, “County Road 160 was re-opened (Saturday) to restore traffic flow and allow residents to return to select areas.”
The reopening of U.S. 160 is vitally important to residents as it runs from La Veta to Fort Garland, the two towns on opposite ends of the fire. With U.S. 160 open, many homeowners have been able to return home.
Some of the areas residents have been allowed to repopulate are Trey Valles and Navajo Ranch among other areas. Officials warned those residents that they “should expect to see smoke in the area as interior pockets of vegetation continue to burn.”
As former Woodland Park resident Frank Minter recalled from the Hayman Fire that “was right on my doorstep” in 2002, just because a fire has subsided, does not mean there aren’t hot spots in the forest.
“I didn’t really know what hot spots were until 2002,” Minter said. “After Hayman, I learned that the trees and brush that don’t burn down can hold onto the heat of a fire for long periods of time and start to burn again if the weather is hot and the wind starts blowing.”
Minter, have now relocated north to Longmont, recalled how stressful it was living so close to the Hayman Fire, just outside of the fire’s perimeter.
“I remember Hayman pretty vividly, still,” Minter said. “The air quality was awful and it seemed like it was just a nightmare that wasn’t going to end. I had close friends who had to evacuate their homes near Lake George and it was very difficult for them. The anxiety and uncertainty is just horrible.”
For residents who have been forced to evacuate due to the Spring Creek Fire, officials advise to call 211 for current information about evacuation and re-entry.
The Spring Creek Fire is currently one of 11 fires in the state, four of them burning over 10,000 acres at this point. Another fire affecting southern Colorado is the 416 Fire, which officials stated on Sunday is 50 percent contained. The fire has burned about 55,000 acres north of Durango and has caused concerns of flash floods in the area.
With the majority of the fires in Colorado being caused by human behavior, officials strongly recommend to take all of the necessary precautions and follow all fire restrictions and regulations.