Caution urged as Colorado forest reopens as drought persists
DURANGO — Officials warned people Thursday to be careful as a southwestern Colorado forest and other public lands reopened amid warm, dry weather in the area plagued by drought and wildfire.
Trails, roads and campsites in San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land around Durango were set to open later in the day.
Open fires, outdoor smoking and shooting firearms are among the things banned in the forest to prevent another wildfire.
Forest officials say as much as 1.5 inches of rain — the remnants of Hurricane Bud — fell in some parts of the 2,800 square mile forest over two days last weekend, more than typically falls during an entire average June.
The Forest Service said meteorologists and fire behavior experts do not expect extreme conditions to return before the arrival of summer monsoon season in the Four Corners region, where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah meet.
The area has the worst drought conditions in the nation’s rating system.
Fire officials battling a 53 square mile wildfire that started in the forest on June 1 said Thursday that the rain’s impact is rapidly dissipating. Gusty winds were expected Friday along with low humidity.
The fire has not spread much since the rain. Residents of more than 2,000 evacuated homes have been allowed to return.
The fire and closure of the forest have hurt the tourism-reliant economy.
A fund has been set up to help people who lost work, and Durango residents have sent food to the mountain town of Silverton, the destination of a scenic railroad that has been shut down by the fire and conditions.
Breweries across Colorado plan a fundraiser Saturday, vowing to “fight fire with beer.”
Ann Rapp, whose company takes people on horseback rides mostly in the forest, told The Durango Herald that she has already lost more than $30,000 because of canceled trips. Still, she has mixed feelings about the reopening of the forest.
“It can save our business this summer,” she said. “But at the same time, I really hope that everybody’s super careful and don’t start another fire.”