Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Fires And Drought Close Forests In Colorado And New Mexico

Fires And Drought Close Forests In Colorado And New Mexico

In an extreme move due to continuing fire danger, the U.S. Forest Service plans to close the entire San Juan National Forest to most public entry starting on Tuesday.

The Cibola National Forest announcement won't affect Albuquerque Open Space trails until those trails cross into the National Forest, said Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department.

The closure will remain in effect "until the forest receives sufficient moisture to improve conditions", according to a statement.

After doubling in size from Saturday to Sunday, the wildfire, 13 miles (21 km) north of the small city of Durango, grew by 32 percent to 22,131 acres (8,956 hectares) from Sunday to Monday, the team said. Officials say the fire was not caused by nature.

A 32-mile (52-km) stretch of U.S. Highway 550, which has served as a buffer for homes on the eastern edge of the fire, was closed on Monday, officials said. Fire managers credited advance fire mitigation work by homeowners for helping firefighters save the structures.

West of Denver, near Ski Country, another 1,400 homes were evacuated. The cause of the fire is unknown.

"If, for example, someone was out bike riding and got injured, our resources are tied up with the fire", Blake said. A severe drought also has hit the Four Corners area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet.

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In southern Wyoming near the Colorado border, the so-called Badger Creek Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest grew as evacuation orders were expanded to almost 400 homes in Albany County, according to the online US fire information service.

Full forest closures are not common and the Forest Service stresses they're only done as a last resort.

Calling it "an extremely hard decision", supervisor Kara Chadwick plans to sign an order closing all of the San Juan National Forest.

The forest, which covers more than 1.8 million acres in western Colorado, announced the closure is intended "to protect natural resources and public safety". But she's grateful her daughter's home, which is just a few feet away, was spared.

One of the main tourist attractions, a historic scenic railroad that takes riders through the majestic San Juan Mountains in the forest, has suspended its service and furloughed its seasonal workers. It may reopen later this month with diesel engines to replace its traditional coal-fired locomotives that can throw sparks.

Fire crews finally have a handle on the Ute Park blaze burning in northern New Mexico, which has burned more than 57 square miles.

"We are resilient in Durango. We've been pushed pretty hard", Powell said of firefighters who are working late each night.

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