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Update: Trail Canyon Fire 80% contained; crews reduced to 50

881-acre blaze south and east of Mesa Verde National Park was started by lightning
The Trail Canyon Fire is burning on Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands northwest of Red Mesa. It was started by lightning Friday and has grown to 881 acres. (Courtesy Brad Pietruszka)

The Trail Canyon Fire on Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands 10 miles northwest of Red Mesa grew to 881 acres over the weekend, and was 80% contained by Monday evening, according to fire officials.

The wildfire was started by lightning Friday, and was burning in piñon, juniper and sage woodlands on the eastern edge of Mancos Canyon. No homes or structures are threatened.

Air support and 65 firefighters were initially deployed to fight the fire, with the goal of full suppression. By Monday, 125 firefighters were working the blaze, and two bulldozers assisted with containment lines.

Brad Pietruszka is the incident commander.

The fire threatened to move deeper into the canyon, and was being held back by firefighter efforts on the ground and from the air, said Andy Lyon, public information officer for Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center.

By Monday, a containment line had been established on 30% of the fire’s perimeter, then up to 80% Monday evening.

By Tuesday morning, fire activity was winding down, and no growth was expected, Lyon said, in an interview. Strong winds continue to be a threat to the fire potentially spreading. Containment is expected to increase this week.

Strong winds up to 40 MPH have tested containment lines, according to the Monday evening fire outlook report on InciWeb, but have resulted in no appreciable growth.

“Another round of wind Tuesday will continue to test containment lines but will push fire into previously contained areas,” the report states.

The San Juan and Craig Hot Shot Crews were able to establish a line around the fire where it threatened to spread deeper into the rugged Mancos Canyon area. The line was to be further fortified on Tuesday.

Lyon said hot shot crews were expected to be sent home Tuesday, and a Type 4 wildland fire crew of 50 will remain to put out hot spots, monitor the perimeter and control any fires from blowing embers, Lyon said.

Hot, dry and windy weather continued Tuesday at the fire site. Relative humidity will remain low with a shift in wind direction forecast for Tuesday. Those conditions will result in near critical fire weather conditions during the afternoon and early evening, fire officials said.

There were no injuries or structures lost in the fire. Federal fire fighting crews were assisted by local agencies, including Cortez Fire Protection District, and Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Department.

The containment line wraps around the southeastern edge of the fire’s footprint. Its northern edge is south and east of Mesa Verde National Park.

The fire had quieted down somewhat by Sunday, Lyon said, but because of dry conditions there are concerns it could grow again.

Shifting winds threatened to cause the fire to back down into Mancos Canyon, where the terrain is more rugged and less accessible.

“If it gets deeper into the canyon, that would be problematic,” Lyon said. “Air support from helicopters and air tankers have been working that area, and it helped.”

Fire crews including the San Juan Hotshots of Durango were focused on keeping the fire out of canyon. Other crews worked the edges of the fire to make sure it was cold to prevent embers from blowing and starting new spot fires.

“Hats off to the hard work of firefighters,” Lyon said.

The Trail Canyon Fire has burned 881 acres since Friday. Containment is at 80%. (Courtesy National Interagency Fire Center)

Bulldozers worked the fire edges and made good progress on containment, Lyon said.

Two Chinook helicopters, along with air tankers dropping retardant, were initially used to slow the fire’s spread in steep terrain along Mancos and Horse canyons.

The fire slowed when the head of the fire burned out of a piñon-juniper forest and hit a mix of grass and brush.

“The drought has meant there is very little grass to burn on the fires’ southeast side,” said Pietruszka, “and that helped us immensely because the fire slowed down after it burned out of the piñon-juniper forest where it started.”

Fire resources may become less available as new fires are sparking up in the Rocky Mountain Region, Lyon said.

No structures have been hit by the Trail Canyon Fire. Ranches and houses exist a few miles to the southeast and east of the fire.

No structures have been damaged by the Trail Canyon Fire, burning on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation south of Mancos. Homes and ranches are south and east of the fire. (Courtesy National Interagency Fire Center)

The fire burned on the east rim of Mancos Canyon, east and south of Mesa Verde National Park. It was being fueled by drought-stressed piñon-juniper and sagebrush, with active torching, backing and creeping behavior.

Critical fire weather conditions will continue this week. An upper-level northwest trough moved over to the north of the fire area. Upper-level flow will transition to southwesterly direction Tuesday and continue through the end of the week. Chance for moisture will increase Wednesday and Thursday.

Mud Creek Fire contained

The Mud Creek 2 fire, north of Towaoc, on Ute Mountain Ute land is 100% contained, reported Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart on Monday. There were no structures damaged.

The fire had grown to 55 acres, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. The cause was listed as undetermined.

Early response by air and ground resources was essential for controlling the blaze, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.

Other agencies battling the Mud Creek Fire 2 included Bureau of Indian Affairs fire crews and Bureau of Land Management Type 2 and Type 3 crews.