Four Corners fire agencies urging caution as Red Flag Warnings in effect

Perins Peak Fire near Durango 80% contained, all pre-evacuation orders lifted

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times
  • Regional fire agencies are asking the public to help avoid any new wildfires by using precautions and following regional fire safety guidelines.
  • Perins Peak Fire managers are getting ready to send home some crews as the fire reaches 45% containment.

FARMINGTON — Skies were cloudy but smoke-free in San Juan County Saturday morning, and local fire agencies hope to keep it that way through Memorial Day Weekend as expected high winds brought Red Flag Warnings for Saturday and Sunday covering northwest and northeast New Mexico.

Skies were likewise smoke-free in downtown Durango Saturday morning. Crews that spent days containing the Perins Peak Fire just northwest of Durango waited out a windy afternoon the fire manager said could ignite hotspots. By 8 p.m. the fire was 80% contained and the last of the pre-evacuation orders issued Tuesday was canceled.

Firefighters in New Mexico's San Juan County and Colorado's La Plata County remain on high alert this weekend due to weather conditions.

More: US review traces massive New Mexico fire to planned burns

Red Flag Warnings in New Mexico

Red Flag conditions caused San Juan County Fire & Rescue to ban residents from burning materials outdoors due to expected high winds Saturday.

“Today is a red flag day and no burning is permitted,” the agency posted on its Facebook page Saturday morning. “Weather conditions have created high fire danger.”

The Farmington Fire Department started early this month, posting in mid-May a request the people refrain from using fireworks due to the dry conditions. It also provided a link to fire restriction rules on Bureau of Land Management lands.

“Please help keep our public lands and communities safe by adhering to fire restrictions,” the department urged. “Be sure to check BLM’s website for restriction information and follow the Bureau of Land Management - New Mexico on Facebook for updates.”

BLM's Farmington and Taos offices in April posted updated restrictions due to increased fire danger and prolonged drought on burning, smoking practices and the use of things like chainsaws on its lands. 

The San Juan Office of Emergency Management also warned of the windy and dry conditions this Memorial Day  weekend, with more to come through the next week, passing along Saturday’s National Weather Service post.

“Dry, hot, and windy conditions are in store for this Memorial Day Weekend,” the U.S. National Weather Service Albuquerque New Mexico posted Saturday. “This will lead to widespread extreme critical fire weather conditions so please be careful and avoid any outdoor activities that may cause a spark.”

Firefighters will monitor winds as Perins Peak Fire containment work near Durango proceeds

The potentially hazardous conditions don’t end with the holiday weekend, forecasters say.

“Chances for thunderstorms then start to trend up by the middle of next week!” they noted in their post. 

Thunderstorms can cause lightning strikes that spark new wildfires.

More: Map shows nearly 80% of county residents live within 'threat radius' of oil, gas sites

Perins Peak Fire still smolders near Durango 

The Perins Peak Fire on Tuesday tore through steep, remote land northwest of Durango. It stalled within a 102-acre footprint for days as winds calmed, and grew recently by just four acres to 106 acres, according to an infrared mapping flight Friday. Crews reported “minimal fire activity” throughout Friday.

“Containment increased again Friday on the Perins Peak Fire and it is now at 45% contained,”  Incident Commander Jay Godson said in what was billed as his final fire update.

Godson’s release said that the red flag weather conditions expected on Saturday and southwest winds “could ignite unburned fuel within the fire perimeter and push them toward the containment lines on the northeast side of the fire area.”

Perins Peak Fire west of Durango reaches 36% containment Thursday evening

“The stronger winds should be a good test of our efforts to date,” Godson said in the release.

By 8 p.m. there was more good news posted to the InciWeb site.

"As of the evening of May 28, 2022 the fire was 80% contained and management of the fire was returned to the Tres Rios Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management," fire managers reported. "The “ready” evacuation status for the Rockridge neighborhood of Durango was lifted as of 6:00 p.m. on May 28th."

There were 156 crewmembers assigned to the fire on Friday according to the InciWeb multiagency information website. Godson said the active firefighting  crew will be pared down Saturday night with the remaining hotshot crews patrolling the lines for hotspots and other crews release to go home or to other fires.

The release noted there will still be smoke as pockets of some unburned fuels may ignite inside the fire zone.

On Friday officials ended a pre-evacuation order for County Road 206 and County Road 208.

If firefighters on the containment lines of the Perins Peak Fire near Durango Colorado need water to douse wind-sparked hotspots, here's where some of it comes from. Engines and water tenders were busy during the week filling portable water tanks, known as pumpkins, to plumb the Perins Peak Fire.

Trails are open again at Twin Buttes and Overend Mountain Park. 

“Trail users are encouraged to watch for trail updates while the Perins Peak Fire remains active,”  the release stated. 

Drones are still prohibited in the fire zone despite cancelation of the emergency 5-nautical-mile flight ban imposed recently for the area.

"That being said, please do not fly your drones in the fire area, it is (a) massive concern for our aviators and can be a huge hazard," Godson said during his final briefing. "We're still going to be using some aviation to do some recons, possibly  some sling loads of materials to up on the hill so we still have some aviation in the area and drones would be a massive hazard."

Despite the progress against this blaze, fire officials urge people to use caution when enjoying the outdoors to avoid a new conflagration.

“Fire danger remains extremely high across southwest Colorado and both residents and visitors are urged to use extreme caution as they recreate on our public lands this weekend,” the release noted. “Storms Sunday increase the chance of dry lightning and new fire starts, so fire managers urge the public to prevent any human-caused wildfires.”

State sign vehicles flashing similar safety warnings are common along Colorado highways this weekend in the Durango area.

Contact John R. Moses at 505-564-4624, or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

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