The Decker Fire’s Higher, Drier Ground Is Why It’s Still Burning Nearly A Month Later

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Smoke from the Decker Fire on Methodist Mountain as seen on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019.

The Decker Fire near Salida is still burning almost a month after it started.

Officials say the fire, which has burned nearly 6,000 acres and is 5 percent contained, has been difficult to fight because of weather and because of where it is.

“It started high in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness,” spokeswoman Shawna Hartman said Friday afternoon. “It’s very inaccessible terrain in the wilderness and it’s unsafe to put firefighters in that terrain.”

Several neighborhoods have been evacuated in the Boot Hill Area of Salida and the Bear Creek Subdivision in Fremont County. Pine Ridge, Wellsville, Swissvale and Howard in Fremont County have also been put on pre-evacuation notice.

A little more than 300 people have been evacuated in Chafee County, according to Sheriff John Spezze. He said one issue his office has had is with people who have chosen to return home despite mandatory evacuations. He warned that it was unsafe because conditions could quickly change. 

Hartman said much of firefighters’ focus is on the part of the fire that has burned down to lower elevations, about two miles south of Salida. She said firefighters can safely fight it there with dozers and aircraft. 

“We are using dozers to remove all of the vegetation down to mineral soil and when the fire comes through, it has no fuel to burn there so we stop the spread of it there,” she said. “We’ll cut trees and remove the brush for the same reason.”

More than 400 people are working on the fire. 

“We’ve had some humidity and lighter winds so you’re not seeing the active flames and the active burning like we had in the past,” Spezze said. “A lot of people think it’s safe to go back in the area. We’re holding our evacuations.”

A meteorologist working on the incident command team for the fire said humidity is expected to drop to near critical levels later Friday afternoon with 40 mile per hour wind gusts. A red flag warning is in effect for the Decker Fire area starting Saturday at 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Hartman said it could take a snow or rainstorm to eventually put the fire out.