A wildfire that broke out Sunday east of Mancos has grown to more than 200 acres, prompting evacuations and a robust firefighting response.
Connie Clementson, the Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Field Manager, said the fire was initially reported as being on Menefee Mountain, but upon further investigation, the more exact location is a ridgeline east of Menefee, between the East Canyon subdivision and Cherry Creek Road.
“That is an area that has not had a lot of fire, so there’s some good fuel in there,” Clementson said. “So we’re expecting an active fire.”
The blaze has been named the “East Canyon Fire.” It was located about 20 miles west of Durango, spanning the La Plata-Montezuma county line. Clementson said the fire was sparked by lightning Saturday, starting on private land then moving on to BLM land.
“We obviously have an initial attack going on, which is going to be pretty aggressive,” she said.
Clementson ordered a type-3 response, including an aerial attack, smoke-jumpers and ground crews. More firefighting resources are expected to arrive in the region Sunday night.
“We’re getting ready to meet with the team,” Clementson said around 8 p.m. “We’ll make a plan for tactics and move it forward tomorrow morning.”
Clementson did not have an update on the success of Sunday’s initial attack.
Vicki Shaffer, Montezuma County spokeswoman, said residents in the Elk Springs subdivision, which includes county roads 46 and G.3, have been issued a mandatory evacuation. Shaffer also said residents on the north end of Cherry Creek Road have started to evacuate. In all, about 23 homes were evacuated, she said.
Residents have been asked to evacuate to the Mancos Fire Station for registration. A telephone hotline for help has been established at (970) 385-8700.
Clementson said the fire is burning in a remote area, but there are subdivision and homes in the vicinity.
“We’re just being careful and cautious,” she said.
Smoke is prominent and visible from U.S. Highway 160 and Montezuma County Road 46. The smoke looked like wispy clouds hanging on the western horizon from Durango city limits. A flight ban has been implemented for the area in question, Shaffer said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality health advisory from 4 p.m. Sunday to 9 a.m. Monday, encouraging people to stay indoors and limit outside activities, especially for vulnerable populations like those with respiratory or heart disease, children and senior citizens.
CDPHE said smoke is expected to move northeast of the fire, creating heavy smoke in western La Plata County. Moderate to heavy smoke is also expected to settle over Mancos. If visibility is less than 5 miles, smoke has reached unhealthy levels.
Firefighting crews are also dedicating resources to another blaze that had burned about 13 acres, the “Loading Pen Fire,” located between Stoner Mesa and Hay Camp Mesa, said Esther Godson, spokeswoman for the Forest Service.
Aerial and grounds crews have been sent to fight that fire, which was also started by lightning Saturday.
Emergency managers are prioritizing resources based on need, Godson said.
“This is the first flurry of fires of the season,” she said. “But what we have going for us is that we were all very prepared. It’s highly likely we’ll be sharing resources and coordinating as air space opens.”
Firefighters are unlikely to receive much help from Mother Nature, said Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“For the next several days, it’s going to be hot, dry and windy,” he said. “There is little relief in sight. It’s going to be a tough battle for the next few days.”
The NWS has issued a red flag warning for the Mancos area Monday and Tuesday. Temperatures will be in the 80s, wind gusts could reach 15 to 30 mph and there is zero chance for precipitation.
Overnight humidity, which typically increases and helps slow the fire, is also expected to be low, Colton said. A seven-day model does not show any chance of rains hitting the region.
“It’s going to be critical fire conditions,” he said.
After a widespread lightning storm passed the region Saturday, about a half-dozen fires were reported in areas around Cortez, Dove Creek and Mancos on Sunday.