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Four fires spark along U.S. 491 in Cortez

Dry conditions raise fire danger, chief says

Firefighters responded to four small brush fires within a quarter mile of each other along U.S. Highway 491 south of Cortez on Wednesday morning.

The fires were all doused within an hour, and there was no property damage, although an electric pole was singed, said Jeff Vandevoorde, Cortez Fire Protection District chief.

He said the cause of the fires is unknown, but speculated they could have been started by either a chain dragging behind a vehicle causing sparks, or set intentionally by somebody flicking out matches or cigarettes as they drove.

“We’re lucky the vegetation is still green,” he said. “It is not a coincidence that there are four separate fires in a row.”

The first fire was reported at 8:37 a.m. at the highway entrance to That’za Pizza, which burned vegetation then spread to an electrical pole.

When firefighters arrived, they discovered three other fires to the south, including one in front of a residence, one adjacent to a vacant field and one in front of the White Eagle Inn.

After the fire around and on the utility pole was put out, Empire Electric crews at the scene said the pole was stable, and there was no damage to the lines.

A crew of 10 firefighters, two brush trucks and a fire engine were on scene to put out the fires that were all burning off the east side of the highway pavement. The highway was not closed, but Cortez police were parked on the north bound and southbound shoulders with emergency lights on to warn traffic.

The risk of fire is high, according to Vandevoorde, because of dry conditions.

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