|The Hayden Pass fire has entered its third week of burning in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, but most of the danger the fire originally presented, in those ominous black clouds of smoke, has faded. Evacuees of the eastern boarders of the fire in towns such as Coaldale returned home to find that not a single home was lost in the 16,500 acres fire.
The fire has not expanded over the past week and forest officials announced Tuesday that the burning is now contained at 58 percent. The number of personnel monitoring the blaze has shrunk from nearly 800 to a mere 144. Those 144 have relocated their headquarters to the Custer County Fair and Rodeo grounds.
Fire manager Lynn Barclay gave a quick tour of the camp that has popped up at the rodeo grounds just north of town. “We have over 144 personnel staying here at the moment, with everything the fire crews and support staff need,” Barclay pointed to the large group of semi-trucks. “We have mobile showers for up to 15 people with outside sinks, a large kitchen with a US Food refrigerated truck next to that. Four command tents and stacks of chains for saws, gas, and oil.” The camp is very impressive. “Few people realize how much it takes to supply these firefighters.”
The firefighting efforts that saved hundreds of homes is enormous. Incident Commander Robert Smith released a report on July 21 stating that crews and equipment were being pulled away from the burn areas. There is only a creeping spread of the fire with hot smoldering areas being allowed to burn or “mopped-up” by fire crews. One large helicopter and a smaller helicopter remain stationed at the Salida airport to help with the northern edge of the fire still burning in the wilderness areas. Nearly one million gallons of water and fire suppressant were air-dropped on the fire over the past three weeks.
Fish are the last evacuees from the fire that have not been allowed to return to their home waters. Over the past week the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife netted over 200 rare and endangered Cutthroat Trout. The fish where moved to a local hatchery until the waters clear in the burns zones of the Hayden Pass Fire.
Mother Nature has continued her support of fire suppression efforts with several large thunderheads dropping rain over the burn area. According to the National Weather Service in Pueblo nearly a half an inch fell over the past seven days.
Forest fire officials are unsure of how long the fire will take to completely be extinguished. However, residents should still expect smoke over the next few weeks as the fire continues to smolder.