Decker Fire Grows To 846 Acres As Officials Let It Burn To Clear Dry, Dead Trees

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The Decker Fire on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.

The Decker Fire burning south of Salida more than doubled in size Saturday, but fire officials are allowing it to burn.

Land managers made the decision because the wildfire is in a contained area and will help clear dangerous fuels and support the health of forests in the long term, Decker Fire spokesman Brant Porter said.

The Decker Fire grew to 846 acres Saturday because of a combination of warm weather, low humidity and sunny skies. The fire is limited to National Forest Service land in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.

The area has a significant number of dry, downed trees due to tree-killing beetles. Porter said the ecosystem of the forest relies on fires like the Decker Fire to clear out that dead material.

The National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service all have prescribed burn programs that aim to do the same thing.

While the Decker Fire and others may be good for the health of the ecosystem, they aren't always healthy for some vulnerable people's lungs.

"Wildfires produce a lot of chemicals and a lot of particles," said Scott Landes with the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division.

The health concerns during fires are due to fine particulates that are difficult to exhale, Landes said. These particulates cause respiratory issues, especially for people with heart conditions. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pains, he said.

The division issued air quality advisories last week for southern colorado fires, including the Decker Fire. There are currently no advisories in effect in the state.

Landes said people in advisory areas should stay indoors, avoid air conditioners that pull in outside air and use air filtration systems when possible.