MINERAL COUNTY -The mountain town of South Fork is being evacuated as three nearby wildfires grow to over 60,000 acres.The complex now includes the Papoose fire.
As of Saturday evening the fire was about 1.5 miles south of South Fork. The main priority of firefighters right now is structure protection. Crews have not been able to fight the fire from the air because of strong winds.
"We haven't been able to fly a lot of aviation assets for pilot and aviator safety. It's just not possible to fly in those conditions," said Operations Chief Russ Long.
According to Deputy Incident Commander Todd Pechota, no structures were lost at Wolf Creek Ski area or in South Fork as of Saturday evening. He says the three fires have grown to at least 66,200 acres. Infrared flights are planned overnight Saturday, and they should have a better estimate of the size Sunday morning.
The West Fork Complex consists of three wildfires. The West Fork Fire and Windy Pass Fire are burning on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass in southwest Colorado. The complex also includes the Papoose Fire.
RESOURCES:9NEWS Wildfire Resource Center
On Friday, there was a mandatory evacuation order issued for the town of South Fork.
Authorities say the town's 400 residents were evacuated. The largest of the blazes, the West Fork Fire, has spread into the Rio Grande National Forest, which surrounds the town.
Both fires are burning in steep, rugged terrain with large amounts of beetle-killed spruce which makes it difficult and unsafe for firefighters to mount a direct attack.
Officials said fire behavior Thursday was so extreme it was undocumented and unprecedented. The fire made a seven mile run to the northeast crossing the Continental Divide and burning on the ridge above Big Meadows Reservoir down to Metroz Lake.
Fire activity has been slower than anticipated Friday partially due to the cooler temperatures. Slurry drops have been utilized parallel and along Highway 160 to retard the fire from crossing the highway.
A lightning strike started the fire on June 5. It grew dramatically in recent days because of strong winds.
SLIDESHOW:West Fork Complex Fire
Crews were also fighting a five to six acre fire on the south side of Highway 160 called the Windy Pass Fire, which was started by lightning on Thursday. The fire is approximately 12 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs near the Windy Pass Trail (566).
An animated satellite image of the fires, created byCIMMS at the University of Wisconsin, shows how fast the fire spread.
Photos and maps will be posted on the Archuleta County Emergency information site at www.acemergency.org as they become available.
There are multiple road and trail closures, the main ones include Highway 160 and all roads and trails accessing 160 between South Fork and Treasure Falls and Highway 149 between South Fork and Creede from mile post 1 through mile post 22.