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Red flag warning extended until 9 p.m. in Montezuma County

Much of Southwest U.S. faces drought conditions

A red flag warning is in effect in Montezuma and La Plata counties until 9 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

A controlled burn got out of control Monday afternoon in McElmo Canyon just east of the Sand Canyon Trailhead.

No injuries were reported, but the fire singed a hay barn and threatened a trailer home. The burn kicked up during high winds on a red flag warning, when open fires are banned in unincorporated Montezuma County.

Multiple fire departments responded to the blaze, including the Cortez Fire Protection District and Ute Mountain Fire Department. Neighbor John Tomac also assisted with a privately owned water truck, and Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputies conducted traffic control as firetrucks moved up and down County Road G to contain the fire. A Southwest Health System ambulance also responded.

Another fast-moving fire was reported about 5 p.m. near Ismay, at the Utah border, and firefighters were responding to that one as well.

The red flag warning, originally set to expire at 6 p.m. Monday, covers much of Southwest Colorado, as well as Delta, Montrose and Mesa counties below 6,000 feet. New fire starts will be difficult or impossible to control because of strong winds, low humidity, and dry grass and brush fuels, the weather service said.

In Montezuma County, controlled burns are banned during a red flag day. Residents in unincorporated Montezuma County are directed by county ordinance to call a dispatcher at 970-565-8441 the day of the proposed burn and before it is started. A violation of the ordinance may be punished by a fine of up to $1,000.

Strong westerly winds and low humidity in the afternoon raised the fire danger to a high level, the weather service said. Little to no precipitation is expected across valleys as the cold front passes.

Spring tends to bring high winds, so it is not an unusually early red flag warning, said Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the weather service,

“Grasses are dry and ready to burn,” he said.

Durango Fire Protection District suspended burn permits Monday, and it was strongly discouraging agricultural burning, according to a Twitter post.

The forecast for Monday called for sunny skies, a high temperature in the lower 60s and 20-25 mph winds by the afternoon. Monday night, the overnight low is expected to be around 30 degrees, with 20-30 mph winds and gusts of up to 45 mph.

Montezuma County faces extreme drought conditions, classified as D3, and the federal drought map released Thursday showed intensifying dry conditions across northern New Mexico and into southwestern Arizona. Oklahoma is ground zero right now for the worst drought conditions in the U.S. – exceptional drought (D4).

The Durango Herald contributed to this article.

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