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Fires flare up in Montezuma, Dolores counties

Dry lightning faulted; three wildfires, spot fires burning

Dry lightning on Sunday likely started three wildfires in Montezuma County and Dolores Counties, according to county and federal officials.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said a blaze north of Narraguinnep Reservoir was put out by local firefighters. A second flare-up west of County Roads 19 and W at Yellow Jacket Canyon continued to burn Monday evening.

“It is burning in a canyon area of farmland and BLM lands,” Nowlin said.

By 7 p.m., the Yellow Jacket had grown to three acres, and full containment is expected by 8 p.m. Monday. Several local fire districts fought the fire. A single-engine plane dropped a load of slurry on the fire, and a helicopter dropped water on it as well. No injuries or damaged structures were reported, Nowlin said.

The third flare-up, the East Rim Fire, has burned 25 acres on the Dolores Canyon rim about seven miles northeast of Dove Creek, according to Patrick Seekins, fire management officer of the Dolores district of the San Juan National Forest.

“It is burning in a very remote area on BLM and Forest Service land,” Seekins said. “It grew from two acres to 25 acres since Sunday.”

A crew of 45 firefighters will fight the fire beginning Tuesday, and a helicopter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be on scene to assist, Seekins said. He added that crews will focus on putting the fire out where it is on the mesa. Because of steep, dangerous terrain, firefighters on the ground will not fight the fire where it has spread into the steep canyon.

A fourth fire is burning in the Willow Divide area north of Dolores, and an on-the-ground assessment is pending as firefighters work to reach the area. A few spot fires also were reported in the Disappointment Valley area and were being extinguished.

“We have been very busy, and there has been a lot of good coordination with local fire districts,” Seekins said. “We’re getting stretched a little thin, but right now we have what we need to handle these fires.”

In La Plata County, a federal incident command team that has overseen the Lightner Creek Fire plans to step down Tuesday and hand over control to state team.

The Lightner Creek Fire remained at 95 percent contained Monday morning. The size remained at 412 acres, a slight increase over previous estimates of 406 acres – not because of new fire activity, but as a result of more accurate mapping, according to the incident command team.

Residents from all 170 homes have been allowed to return to their homes. Roads near the burn areas, including county roads 207 and 208, remain closed, but residents received “rapid tag” cards that allow them to get past checkpoints.

Firefighters patrolled the Lightner Creek Fire’s perimeter on Monday. Smoke may be visible, but fire activity is within the controlled containment line, the incident command team said Monday morning. Fire crews will be released from the fire as they complete their work.

Management of the fire will return to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and the BLM on Tuesday morning. A Type III organization – an incident commander, engine and helicopter – will patrol the fire as necessary.

Dry conditions have triggered local fire bans.

Montezuma County issued a fire ban starting July 1. La Plata County Commissioners enacted fire restrictions on open burning south of U.S. Highway 160.

The Bureau of Land Management announced a Stage 1 fire restriction on BLM lands in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose and San Miguel counties. Mesa Verde National Park banned open fires throughout the park effective Saturday, which includes open wood-burning fires in the campground. The Southern Ute tribe has made similar restrictions on tribal lands.

Under a Stage 1 fire restriction, it is illegal to build, maintain, attend or use a fire. Fireworks and other explosive material are prohibited. Smoking is allowed only in vehicles, buildings and developed recreational areas. A violation of the fire restrictions is punishable by a fine of up to $300 for each violation.

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