Southwest fires continue to smolder

Smoke continues to fill the skies in and around Durango. As many as 17 wildfires are currently burning on almost 220,000 acres of public lands in Southwest Colorado. Of these, the 1,864-acre Bear Creek Fire is closest to Durango and continues to be managed as a Wildland Use Fire. This lightning-caused fire began July 6 and is burning approximately four miles northeast of Vallecito Reservoir.

"The Bear Creek Fire is surrounded by other wildland fires in the Four Corners area," said Marcus Schmidt, U.S. Forest Service and BLM smoke management specialist. "Much of the smoke you are experiencing is coming from these other fires. It's a cumulative effect."

Three other wildfires are burning in western Colorado, including the Alta Fire near Telluride, and the Brush Mountain and Dotsero Crater fires near Grand Junction. Four wildfires are burning in south and eastern Utah, and six wildfires are burning in New Mexico, including the large Encebado Fire near Taos. To further contribute to the local haze, three wildfires are burning in Arizona.

The Forest Service continues to manage the Bear Creek Fire under a Fire-use Smoke Permit issued by the State of Colorado. "The Forest Service continues to abide by the conditions of the permit, and we will continue to monitor the situation," said Sarah Gallup, field liaison for prescribed fire smoke permits at the Colorado State Air Pollution Control Division. Air quality monitors have been installed at Vallecito to measure air-borne particulates at the fire station at the north end of reservoir and at Vallecito Campground.

Still, Gallup advises those with smoke sensitivities to stay inside, keep windows closed at night when temperature inversions bring smoke down into valleys, and curtail unnecessary outdoor exercise.

As of Wednesday, the Bear Creek fire remained at approximately 1,864 acres. The area received some scattered rain early Wednesday and late Tuesday, but not enough to extinguish the blaze.

In spite of a call last week from U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R.-Colo., to extinguish the blaze, crews were continuing to manage the fire as a Wildland Use Fire. Consequently, it is being allowed to burn north through the Weminuche Wilderness and act as a controlled burn. On the south flank of the fire, crews supported by helicopters, fire engines and a bulldozer are actively suppressing the fire to prevent it from moving farther south and closer to Vallecito.

Grandview moratorium extended

By a mixed vote, the La Plata County commissioners elected Monday to extend the moratorium on development in the Grandview area. Commissioners Josh Joswick and Bob Lieb voted to extend the moratorium in the area east of Durango until Oct. 21. Commissioner Sheryl Ayers opposed the extension, saying the moratorium has not worked so far and has hindered property rights. A number of landowners attended the meeting and echoed this sentiment, according to County Planning Director Nancy Lauro.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has proposed 2,400 new units in a dense new urbanism configuration in the Grandview area. The proposal prompted the commissioners to enact a six-month moratorium on development in the area late last year in order to synchronize planning with the city of Durango and to study the potential for a transfer development rights program to encourage open space.

Last Monday, the commissioners extended the moratorium by majority vote but in a smaller area.

"They extended it for three months, but they limited the area to the city's Grandview area," Lauro said.

The extension will enable the county's planning and engineering departments to evaluate existing plans and propose appropriate regulations for new development in the area. It also will give the city and county time to finalize an intergovernmental agreement. The commissioners agreed that if the agreement is in place prior to Oct. 21, the moratorium can be rescinded.

Excel addresses compliance issues

Things appear to be looking up for the Excel Charter School. Last Thursday, members of the Durango School District 9-R board unanimously approved a budget item for the beleaguered school and, assuming it can enroll 90 students, Excel will be in business for the upcoming school year.

Excel has been plagued by staff and board member turnover as well as problems meeting state and national requirements.

"The school has had some turmoil in the last year and also has needed to address some contract compliance issues that are related to meeting all of Colorado accreditation and accountability statutes," said 9-R Superintendent Mary Barter.

However, Excel is working to get back on track. On Wednesday, July 9, Barter met with the Excel Board and left with a positive impression. "I had a very fine meeting with the Excel Board last Wednesday and came away from the meeting feeling that the school was determined to and able to address all of its noncompliance issues," she said.

Consequently, Barter recommended that the 9-R board approve a $144,225 budget item that will enable Excel to operate during its first quarter. The funding is contingent on an enrollment of 90 students for the 2003-04 school year.

"The only thing I needed further assurance on is that it would have enough students to operate for the upcoming year," Barter said. "As soon as the district's satisfied that there will be at least 90 students on opening day, we'll release the funding."

Body discovered in irrigation ditch

Two menconducting a GPS survey ofa PineRiver irrigation ditch discovered the body of a womanfloating in it last Tuesday morning. La Plata County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the ditch near County Road 222, southeast of Elmore's Corner, a few minutes later and confirmed the discovery.

The woman was believed to be in her early 50s and the cause of death isunder investigation.Results of an autopsy, which was performed late Tuesday, may not be available for several days.The case is currentlyclassified as an "unattended death" and the location of the discovery was being processed as a potential crime sceneuntil such time that foul play can be ruled out.

-compiled by Will Sands





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