A small fire is burning between Pagosa Springs and Bayfield, but fires in the Pacific Northwest are the source of the haze blurring the usually sharp silhouette of the San Juan Mountains.
Locally, the Little Devil Fire is burning in the San Juan National Forest about three miles north of the intersection of U.S. Highway 160 and Colorado Highway 151. Some smoke is visible from Highway 160.
The fire expanded from 10 acres Wednesday afternoon to about 20 acres by 6:30 p.m., said Ann Bond, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service.
So far, no portion of the fire has been contained, she said.
The fire was started by lighting in a remote and rugged area, and no structures are threatened. It was first reported about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, but it likely ignited earlier and smoldered before it was noticed.
Fire crews are trying to protect a power line in the area.
Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control air tankers and a helicopter are dropping slurry on the fire.
Fire crews had been pulled off the fire Wednesday night for safety reasons.
On Thursday, a heavy air tanker will join the fleet along with a smoke-jumper crew, she said.
But the haze Durango residents have noticed obscuring is a side effect of fires in California, Oregon and Washington that have been burning for some time, said Norve Larson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“There are fires burning over the Pacific Northwest. There’s a huge cluster of them. They’re putting up quite a bit of smoke,” he said.
In California, more than 10,000 firefighters are trying to combat 16 wildfires. Major fires in Idaho, Oregon and Montana have sparked evacuations.
A blaze in eastern Oregon that destroyed 36 homes and threatened 500 more on Wednesday become the nation’s top priority for fire-fighting resources.
Smoke from these fires has been blowing for days in a southeasterly direction because of a high-pressure system. The fires have stretched the Forest Service’s resources thin.
“I feel we’re lucky we’re getting these resources,” Bond said.
The additional crews work for the Forest Service, and they are coming from Grand Junction and Montrose.
On Wednesday, San Juan Basin Health Department issued a smoke advisory.
“Light to moderate smoke from fires in other Western states will affect Colorado (Wednesday) ... particularly the western half of the state,” the release said. “This smoke may contribute to moderate concentrations of fine particulates throughout the region.”
The state health department warned people who are unusually sensitive to abrasive air to “consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion, especially across the western half of the state.”
In northwestern Colorado, fires could produce locally heavy smoke in some areas fed by the Four Mile Fire 30 miles north-northeast of Craig, the Hay Canyon Fire 30 miles southwest of Meeker, and the Long Fire 25 miles northwest of Meeker.
Larson said he couldn’t predict how dense the haze would become as the National Weather Service doesn’t measure the particulates in the air.
“For my part, I have not seen any of our airport sensors indicating anything less than 10 miles visibility,” he said. While the haze may be thickening, it hasn’t yet “restricted visibility at any of our area airports,” he said.
Larson said the flow pattern blowing smoke toward Durango from the Pacific Northwest is likely to hold until Thursday. The weather is also likely to remain hot and dry.
By Friday, the horizon may clear thanks to a disturbance that will increase winds across the north.