SOUTH FORKóRecent fires in the South Fork area may have been deliberately set.
Public lands and fire officials are looking into that possibility regarding four recent fires, with the first occurring in the early morning hours of June 20, the second and third occurring Friday night, June 22, and the fourth occurring Monday night, June 25, all in the South Fork area.
The most recent was by Park Creek Road.
SLV Public Lands Center Public Affairs Specialist Mike Blakeman said on Tuesday evening there is not enough evidence to make a determination of arson, but "we are basically calling these fires of suspicious origin."
He added, "Obviously we have a lot of concern with what we are seeing here."
The fires have all been located along the roadside in areas where fires could potentially cause a great deal of property damage. The fires have fortunately been stopped before they burned more than a half acre or an acre.
"Fortunately, the South Fork Volunteer Fire Department has responded quickly to contain and extinguish these
fires while they were still small," Blakeman stated in a Tuesday release.
He commended the South Fork firefighters for "jumping on things really quickly," adding that the public lands attack force right now is really good, but "we are obviously a little bit antsy because we know our conditions are such we could have a big fire and we have been lucky so far."
Blakeman stated that 10 of 12 fires the San Luis Valley Interagency Fire Unit has responded to this summer have been human caused.
"We want people to be watching, helping us to also watch."
Blakeman sent out a news release on Tuesday seeking residents' help in taking extra precautions to prevent fires, especially given the dry, hot conditions of the area. While other parts of the state have encountered wildfires, the San Luis Valley has so far avoided them. The nearest fire has been in the Pagosa Springs area where the Little Sand Fire is in its 46th day, with more than 22,000 acres burned. Blakeman said San Luis Valley residents are continuing to encounter smoke from that fire, and some reports of fire in the last few weeks in the Valley have been false alarms because people were seeing smoke from Pagosa.
For example, a report on Tuesday was a false alarm.
"We have been getting a lot of those," Blakeman said. "We have got to check them out."
There is a very real risk of fire in this area, Blakeman warned, especially from lightning strikes that can commonly occur before periods of moisture, which is the type of weather pattern the Valley will soon be seeing. That makes the thought of human-caused fires even more disturbing.
"The risk of a large wildland fire has increased even further from recent human activity," Blakeman stated.
He referred to the Million Fire, which occurred 10 years ago in the South Fork area and burned more than 9,000 acres, destroyed 11 homes and damaged six others. "Please help prevent that from happening again," he urged.
The San Luis Valley Public Lands Center requests that everyone take extra precaution to prevent a human caused wildland fire by abiding by the Stage II fire restrictions issued on Tuesday, June 26.
For more information about fire conditions and the Stage II fire restrictions, contact the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center at 852-6212.
For the complete article see the 06-28-2012 issue.
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