UPDATE: Destructive Spring Fire 100 percent contained months after starting

Photo: Tomi Price

COSTILLA COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - UPDATE (9/10/18):
The Spring Fire that destroyed more than 100,000 acres and burned down more than 100 homes is now 100 percent contained.

Costilla County Emergency Management reported on twitter that blaze was fully contained on Monday, months after it started. The man suspected of starting the destructive Spring Fire is facing more than 100 counts of arson.

The fire started on June 27. The man suspected of starting the fire was the one who called it in. He reportedly told investigators he had used a fire pit to grill some meat just before the fire started. Arrest papers state the suspect originally claimed he was burning trash, but changed his story to say he was cooking.


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UPDATE (7/14/18): The Spring Fire has burned 108,045 acres and remains at 91 percent contained.

The Huerfano County Recovery Operations Center at the Walsenburg Community Center at 928 Russell Avenue will close at the end of the day Saturday.

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PREVIOUS (7/12/18 8 p.m.):
The Spring Fire is nearly contained as officials say the blaze is 91 percent contained as of Thursday night at 8.

As of 6 p.m., all Huerfano County evacuees were allowed to return home and there were no more mandatory evacuations in place.

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PREVIOUS (7/12/18 3:15 p.m.): The man suspected of starting the destructive Spring Fire is facing more than 100 counts of arson.

Jesper Joergensen was silent over the phone when he learned about the 141 counts for the blaze that reportedly destroyed more than 107,000 acres as of Thursday afternoon.

The fire started on June 27. Jorgensen was the one who called it in. He reportedly told investigators he had used a fire pit to grill some meat just before the fire started. Arrest papers state Joergenson originally claimed he was burning trash, but changed his story to say he was cooking.

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PREVIOUS (7/12/18 1:40 p.m.): With the return of Forbes Park residents, all mandatory evacuations have been lifted for residents of Costilla County.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Huerfano County evacuation map posted Wednesday at 5 p.m. remains in effect:

The fire is still 83 percent contained. The entire south perimeter of the fire is fully contained, leaving only sections of the north side.

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UPDATE (7/11): As of Wednesday night the Spring Fire was 83 percent contained.
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UPDATE (7/9): Firefighters made huge gains over the weekend and have brought containment up to 77 percent.

The fire grew a little more from Sunday to Monday, and to date has now burned 107,627 acres.

Some evacuations and pre-evacuations remain in effect. Maps can be found here.

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UPDATE (7/8): The Spring Fire remains at just under 107,000 acres and is currently 55 percent contained as of Sunday morning.

Highway 160 was closed for a couple of hours Saturday due to increased wildfire activity, just 40 minutes after it has been reopened. It reopened for a second time at 4:15 p.m. and as of Sunday morning remains open. Officials warn it could be closed again at any time if conditions warrant it.

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UPDATE (7/7): Crews continue to work to fully contain the Spring Creek Fire. By Saturday morning, it was 43 percent contained and 106,985 acres.

On Saturday, there will be limited, temporary Forbes Park subdivision re-entry for residents to view their homes, grab personal items and deal with household and food trash. Colorado State Patrol will coordinate the re-entry.

Officials released the following reminders for those planning to re-enter Forbes Park:

- Rapid tags required for all adults
- Wear boots and protective clothing.
- Respiratory masked and other resources available at the Forbes Community Center.
- Food waste may be disposed of in specially marked dumpsters at the regular dumpster location.
- Conditions are such that we want to discourage people from bringing children or pets. (Small dogs and cats kept in crates can be taken to All-4-Paws in Alamosa).
- There may be increased bear activity. Please do not disturb or approach wildlife, for their safety and for yours.

Evacuees can line up for the checkpoint where the road is closed, just past highways 160 and 159. The checkpoint opens at 9 a.m. Each vehicle needs a rapid tag. Homeowners have four hours to visit their homes.

At 3 p.m., residents of Pinon Hills and Tres Valles will be allowed back home. The area will remain on pre-evacuation status. See more information for re-entry below.

Rainbow's End Thrift Store at 510 Main St. in Alamosa has free resources available including shoes, clothes, sunscreen, etc. for residents with rapid tags.

Heart and Eagle Mobile Medical Unit will be open from 11 a.m.- 6:30 p.m. daily through July 9.

Highway 160/La Veta Pass is also expected to reopen at 2 p.m.

CO 12 is still closed north and southbound from CR 420 (mm 7) in La Veta to the summit of Cuchara Pass (mm 22.5).

CO 69 will remain closed in both directions from 5 miles north of Walsenburg (mm 5) to the Huerfano/Custer County Line (mm 42), but is open to local traffic.

On Sunday at noon, there will be a free steak lunch for evacuees donated by the hospital at the Blanca/Ft Garland Community Center.

Parts of San Isabel National Forest were also closed to all recreational visitors. Anyone wanting more information on the closure may call 719-533-1400.

For current evacuation and re-entry information, residents may call 211.

Information officers for the fire will also be available from 2-3 p.m. at the Huerfano County Community Center located at 928 Russell Avenue in Walsenburg.

Click here to see interactive data on the fire including the progression map.

There will be a 3 p.m. meeting for residents of South Middle Creek and Tower at the DIsaster Assitance Center at La Veta High School located at 126 East Garland Street in La Veta.

Further information on the meeting and for those preparing to return is below:

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UPDATE (7/6): The Spring Fire slightly grew overnight to 105,704 acres and is still 35 percent contained.

A flash flood watch is in effect for the area with potential for brief heavy rainfall, wind gusts and lightning.

The Colorado Department of Transportation announced Friday Highway 160/La Veta Pass will reopen Saturday at 2 p.m. CO 12 and CO 69 will remain closed until further notice.

Huerfano County lifted mandatory evacuations for the Spring Fire beginning at 10 a.m. Friday for the following areas:

Some area of Navajo include:
Vega Dr
Indian Creek Drive

Areas outside La Veta Include:
Wahatoya Valley
Shangri La
Little Kansas
County road 363 also known as the Mesa
County Road 362.1
County Road 361
County Road 440
County Road 450
County Road 451
County Road 430
County Road 420
Indian Creek Ranch
Up to and including gas plant property

Those allowed to return will still be on pre-evacuation status. Residents must have the rapid tag re-entry ID to get back into the area.

Homeowners can enter through checkpoints at South Cucharas/Birch or the end of West Francisco Street.

For those needing to report property damage, residents must contact the Huerfano County Sheriff's Office at 719-738-1044 by 5 p.m. Friday.

Those still without power may contact San Isabel Electric at 800-279-7432.

Huerfano County Emergency Management issued the following health advisory information:

If you have not had a tetanus shot within the last 10 years, visit the Disaster Assistance Center 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. to receive a Tetanus Shot prior to re-entry.

There was a power outage to your area which lasted longer than 4 hours. It is recommended to discard any food that has been at a temperature above 41 degrees to prevent foodborne illness.

Dumpsters will be located on the railroad property in the 100 block of North Main Street by the railroad tracks to dispose of spoiled food.

Until your water provider has notified you that the water is okay, ensure destruction of harmful bacteria and other microbes. Water for drinking, cooking and ice making should be brought to a vigorous boil for two minutes and cooled prior to consumption. If you have a private well and your well was close to active burning and/or fire retardant, water can be twisted for coliform bacteria. Water testing will be provided for private wells.


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UPDATE (7/5): The Spring Fire topped 100,000 acres overnight and is now less than 6,000 acres from overtaking the 2013 West Fork Complex Fire as the second-largest fire in state history.

Crews made major progress on the blaze, as of Thursday evening at 6:30 the fire was reportedly 35 percent contained.

There were no new evacuation or pre-evacuation orders issued Wednesday night; all existing statuses remain the same. Evacuation maps can be found here.

The Hayman Fire, the state's largest-ever fire, burned 137,760 acres in the summer of 2002.

Crews are hopeful that fire activity will be less than in previous days. Storms are in the forecast Thursday, including a flash flood watch for the area the fire is burning; however, with the storm could come erratic wind gusts and outflow winds that could push the fire in any direction, the incident commander said.

Click here for the Forbes Park Assessment Report as of July 5.

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UPDATE (7/4): The Spring Fire grew another 10,000 acres between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, and at 95,000 acres has surpassed the High Park Fire to become the third-largest in state history.

Pre-evacuations for the Spring Fire have expanded to Las Animas County, making it now three Colorado counties impacted by the massive wildfire.

According to Huerfano County Emergency Management, the following are now under a pre-evacuation order and advised to prepare for evacuation just in case:

- South of the Huerfano/Las Animas county line south to County Road 42, east to CR 21.7 and west to Highway 12.
- Includes Cuchara Pass Ranches, Timber Creek Ranch, Timber Ridge at Cordova Pass, and Spanish Peak Ranch Estates.

The state's largest-ever wildfire, 2002's Hayman Fire, burned more than 138,000 acres.

Containment remains at only 5 percent Wednesday evening.


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UPDATE (7/3): The Spring Fire has devoured nearly 20,000 more acres, bringing the size of up to 78,944 acres.

The fire remains 5 percent contained, officials said Tuesday.

Tuesday evening, Huerfano County expanded the pre-evacuation area to include the Black Mountain, Aspen Mountain, Libre, El Toro, CL&L, Buffalo Ranch, and Eagle Flat Ranch communities.

The pre-evacuation area runs from Highway 69, north along Gardner Road, encompassing County Roads 635 and 6342 and continuing north to the Huerfano County Line.

The western boundary is defined by the near intersection of Highway 69 and the Huerfano River. The Huerfano River forms the southern boundary, east to the Interstate 25 Frontage Road, and then north to the Huerfano County Line. Between these two points, the Pre-Evacuation Area runs from Highway 69 north to the Huerfano County Line.

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UPDATE (7/2): The Spring Fire has destroyed 104 homes as it continues to burn its way across Costilla and Huerfano counties.

More mandatory evacuations were put in place for the towns of Chama, Redwing, Malachite and Badito south of Highway 69. Huerfano County Emergency Management rescinded an earlier order of mandatory evacuations for the town of Gardner and last reported Gardner was on pre-evacuation notice as of 4 p.m. Highway 69 was closed about 5 miles north of Walsenburg due to the fire.

According to court papers obtained by 11 News Monday, Jesper Joergensen, the man suspected of starting the fire, reportedly told investigators he had used a fire pit to grill some meat just before the fire started. Investigators say Joergenson, 52, was the one to call and report there was a fire on June 27. Arrest papers go on to state Joergenson originally claimed he was burning trash, but changed his story to say he had been using a fire pit to cook meat.

As of 8 p.m. on Monday the fire was 5-10 percent contained and had burned about 60,710 acres.

Click here for the Forbes Park Damage Assessment list.

Current evacuation maps can be found here.

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UPDATE (7/1): The Spring Fire added another 10,000 acres Sunday, but it wasn't all bad news for firefighters, who finally achieved some hard-fought containment by nightfall.

The 53,000-acre fire is now 5 percent contained.

The La Veta fire chief announced Sunday that there had been no injuries to civilians or firefighters and that most people had cooperated with evacuation orders, further keeping themselves out of harm's way.

Authorities will be letting people know on Tuesday the condition of their homes and if it has been affected by the fire. They haven't been able to get into the area yet to get a look around because the fire has been so dangerous.

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UPDATE (6/30): A massive wildfire continues to gobble acreage in two counties, fueled by an unfavorable combination of high temperatures, wind and low humidity.

Law enforcement believe they found the man responsible for starting the now 44,292-acre Spring Fire. The suspect, identified as 52-year-old Jesper Jorgenson, faces arson charges and was arrested Saturday without incident with the help of several agencies. Further details on how it was started have not yet been released.

Air tankers and helicopters were used Saturday to slow the fire's growth, primarily on the east side of the fire near La Veta. Structure protection was also a focus Saturday, with crews trying to establish a fire line with bulldozers and hand crews.

On Saturday, officials said residents would be required to provide re-entry identification once evacuations were lifted. Re-entry identification was available Saturday ONLY at the La Veta Fire Department, but on Saturday afternoon that location was changing. A new location has yet to be determined but would be posted to slvemergency.org once it was decided. If residents are unable to get to the fire department Saturday, re-entry identification would be available at the Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center only AFTER Highway 160 is reopened for most residents. However, those on the west side of La Veta Pass may get their re-entry identification until 4 p.m. Saturday at that community center.

As of Saturday night, there were new pre-evacuations for Huerfano County. The notifications include the areas of Red Wing, Chama, Malachite and the town of Gardner. It also includes the Badito area on the south side of Highway 69.

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UPDATE (6/29): More evacuations were ordered Friday as a fire burning in two counties continues to expand.

Structures are confirmed lost in the Spring Fire, which started in Costilla County near Fort Garland and spread into Huerfano County. Officials have not given a number or said how many of those are houses. Friday morning, officials confirmed some of the structures were lost in the Middle Creek area in Huerfano County.

The United States Postal Service said Friday the fire was impacting mail delivery in the area for about 360 homes. Those needing to pick up mail were directed to go to the Fort Garland Post Office at 313 Highway 159 or the La Veta Post Office located at 117 E. Ryus Ave. Residents were instructed to bring an ID.

An air quality health advisory was sent out Friday morning for northeastern Costilla County and the entirety of Huerfano and Pueblo counties. Locations included, but were not limited to La Veta, Walsenburg, Pueblo and Colorado City.

Authorities now believe the fire was human-caused. Investigators have not said how it started and that it is still under investigation, but they ruled out trains in the area causing the wildfire.


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PREVIOUS (6/28): Firefighters are pessimistic things with a fire burning in Costilla County will get worse before they get better.

Officials said in a 1 p.m. news conference that due to weather conditions, firefighters will be "chasing" the fire versus battling it -- and that will not change until weather conditions change. As of 3 p.m., the fire had consumed nearly 4,000 acres and was growing, with no containment.

The fire sparked south of Highway 160 near mile marker 268 Wednesday afternoon and rapidly ballooned from there. Smoke could be seen at about 3:15 p.m. according to one 11 News viewer living in the area, and by 4:40 p.m. the first pre-evacuation notice was issued for the area east of Fort Garland through Forbes Park. A current evacuation map can be seen below:

An evacuation shelter has been set up at the Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center at 17591 E. Highway 160 in Blanca.

Officials said not everyone has had heeded the evacuation order, but as long as they stay on their property, law enforcement will not be arresting them. Authorities warned if anyone in an evacuation zone did leave their property and become a hassle, there would be consequences.

The fire was declared a disaster by the county just after 10 Wednesday night.

The Spring Fire, as it's been dubbed, is burning between Fort Garland and La Veta. There are concerns it could reach Huerfano County; the Middle Creek area in Huerfano County has been on a pre-evacuation status since Wednesday night.

While at the evacuation center, one resident told 11 News they had just received word they had lost their home. Others had evacuated just in time. (Note: At the time of this writing, structures are confirmed lost but officials have not given a number.)

"We were worried about our dogs because we got five big dogs, out in the mountains by their selves," Rhonda Matthews explained. "Police stopped us, they almost didn't let us go through, we talked them into it. I got my dogs and got out."

When the sun set an orange glow could be seen for miles.

"It's like a fog of smoke right there by our house," James Matthews described the scene. "If the fire does get there [in their neighborhood] it's going to be very bad because there's propane tanks everywhere."