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Many evacuees prepared for approaching East Canyon Fire

Residents of East Canyon neighborhoods have mitigated fire risk

Robert Daulton, who lives in East Canyon, said he had plenty of time to evacuate.

“All is good, we’re camping out in the forest,” he told The Journal in a telephone interview Tuesday.

He had gone through the same process with the Weber Fire eight years ago, when he had been evacuated for about 10 days.

“My house didn’t burn, thank the Lord for that,” Daulton said.

The evacuation notices were lifted in Montezuma and La Plata Counties June 18 and people were allowed to return home. The neighborhoods are still under pre-evacuation orders. The homes on Road G.3 are still under evacuation orders because of their proximity to the fire.

Twenty-three homes in the Elk Springs and Elk Stream subdivisions and 15 homes along Cherry Creek Road were evacuated June 15 as the East Canyon fire grew. Areas north and south of U.S. 160 from the top of Mancos Hill to the Target Tree Campground were under evacuation orders, and both sides of the highway from Target Tree Campground to about 3 miles east of the Highway 160-County Road 105 intersection were under pre-evacuation notice.

Philip Walters, another East Canyon homeowner, said he received the evacuation order from the Nixle alert system about 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Mancos Fire Department officials also went through the canyon to notify residents, he said.

He had ample time to “button up” the house, but a few people who didn’t receive the alert had as little as three minutes, he said. At one point Sunday, the fire was less than a mile from his home.

He too recalled the 10-day evacuation from the Weber Fire in 2012, an experience that helped him and others prepare for wildfires. A few years ago, many residents took part in their own evacuation drill, using Nixle, working with the Montezuma County Office of Emergency Management and setting a designated assembly point.

The exercise helped them know what to expect and how to prepare, taking steps like packing a go-bag, closing windows, turning off propane, opening flammable drapes, charging hoses and making sure hazards were cleaned up in case firefighters need to enter.

“Rehearsing is a good idea for everybody,” Walters said.

The Wildfire Adapted Partnership also has been a good partner with preparing for fires, he said.

“While this is fresh in people’s minds, I would certainly recommend that communities that are out in the wildland urban interface take the time to plan their own personal evacuation, maybe get together with neighbors and do an actual evacuation drill,” Walters said.

But other canyon residents experienced the anxiety of seeing the smoke plume and racing home.

That’s what happened to Philip Russell and his wife, Mayan, while they worked at a grocery store Sunday in Mancos.

They rushed to their home in the Elks Springs subdivision on Road 46 and learned they were under a mandatory evacuation order.

Within two hours, the couple had rounded up their eight cats and three dogs, packed up some essentials and hit the road.

Mayan Kirks Russell had to evacuate from the Elk Springs subdivision. She is staying in a relative’s garage with her husband, three dogs and eight cats.

“We were both kind of numb. On our way out, emergency vehicles were pouring in,” Russell said.

The family moved into a relative’s garage in Mancos, and are sleeping on an air mattress and have a small television for watching Netflix.

“We’re staying hopeful and feel pretty confident. Our home is in a good location. You can see there is a lot of slurry being dropped to protect the neighborhood,” he said.

Over the years, the couple and their neighbors have mitigated the threat of fire by clearing brush around their home and providing room for fire vehicles. The homeowners association has been diligent about mitigating risk and creating defensible space.

When they were evacuating, firefighters pulled combustible items away from the house, including outdoor furniture. The Russells turned on the hose to saturate the yard.

They loaded their cats into prepared crates for a quick departure in their Jeep, Russell said, and packed sentimental items.

Russell moved into the home after his mother moved back to Florida after the Weber Fire, which also threatened the neighborhood.

“Mom can handle hurricanes, but the wildfire was just too frightening,” he said. “My wife is from here, and her family is more familiar with the wildfire drill. The experience is newer for me coming from the beaches of Florida.”

Gem Boone and her husband also evacuated from the neighborhood.

Boone said longtime residents like herself help newcomers learn to prepare for evacuation. The subdivision’s homeowners association has had an evacuation drill in the past and provides residents with information on wildfire preparedness.

Posting a to-do list in the garage comes in handy, she said.

“When you are under stress, it is harder to think straight, so having the list to look at is very helpful, reassuring,” she said.

High on that list should be turning off propane, moving propane grills away from the house, attaching hoses for firefighters and closing windows to prevent smoke damage. Also, have a grab-and-go bag with essentials for up to three days. Don’t forget medication. Maybe turn on sprinklers around the house.

When the fire was close, Boone called neighbors to inform them and see if they needed help. A nearby resident was gone, so Boone drove down to pick up her dog.

Recent fire mitigation saved another neighbor’s home.

“He had just finished a yearlong project clearing brush, and the fire stopped at the mitigation line, saving his house,” she said.

Evacuees registered at the Mancos Fire Protection District office and were given access to free lodging from the American Red Cross. Most relied on family and friends, and two families were put up in local hotels, said Montezuma County public information officer Vicki Shaffer.

The Montezuma County Fairgrounds is offering free boarding for animals of residents who had to evacuate.

Jun 19, 2020
Evacuation orders lifted for Montezuma and La Plata counties
Jun 16, 2020
East Canyon Fire southeast of Mancos grows to 2,700 acres
Jun 15, 2020
U.S. Highway 160 reopens west of Durango near wildfire
Jun 14, 2020
Mandatory evacuations ordered for fire near La Plata-Montezuma county line