Plateau Fire hits 9,000 acres; pre-evacuation notices go door to door

Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 11:14 AM
Smoke rises from the Plateau Fire as seen from the Dolores-Norwood Road near House Creek.
The Plateau Fire on Wednesday closed the House Creek Campground and boat ramp.
Road and trail closures were expanded Wednesday to reach from McPhee Reservoir on the west to Forest Road 527 on the east, and from Boggy Draw on the south to Forest Service Road 514, and the southern tip of Lone Mesa State Park on the north.
A helicopter heads for the Plateau Fire Wednesday afternoon to drop water.
The Dolores Norwood Road is closed at House Creek because of the Plateau Fire.
A helicopter heads for the Plateau Fire with water on Wednesday afternoon.
A burnout operation in the Plateau Fire on July 31.

Pre-evacuation notices were issued Wednesday as the Plateau Fire grew to 9,000 acres and forced road closures reaching from the northern edge of Dolores to the southern tip of Lone Mesa State Park.

The closure encompasses an area bound roughly by McPhee Reservoir on the west, Forest Service Road 527 on the east, Forest Service Road 514 on the north and Forest Service Road 249 on the south, including Boggy Draw.

With the latest closures, it is prohibited to be on any portion of Boggy Draw, Bean Canyon, McNeil and McPhee Overlook Trails or to access Italian Canyon or Maverick trails from the closed area. The eastern boundary comes within a mile of Colorado Highway 145.

Also on Wednesday, the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office issued pre-evacuation notices for residents who live on County Road V.6 and north along County Road 31 to House Creek Road. Evacuations were not mandatory.

Dolores-Norwood Road was closed from its intersection with House Creek Road north to Cottonwood Road, or Forest Road 532, said Plateau Fire public information officer Rob Kopack. Both House Creek and Dolores-Norwood roads will be used for fire operations, he said.

The House Creek Campground and boat dock were closed Wednesday morning, and six or seven campers were evacuated from the House Creek campground about 9:30 a.m., officials said. Portions of the eastern shoreline of McPhee Reservoir were in the process of being closed.

The fire reached 7,200 acres on Tuesday, and Kopack estimated that by 10 a.m. Wednesday, it approached 8,000 acres.

By 4 p.m., it was 9,000 acres and growing, said Gretchen Fitzgerald, of the San Juan National Forest. The fire has been very active for the past few days, she said, growing about 1,000 acres a day.

“Low humidity and high erratic winds have been pushing the fire in all directions,” Fitzgerald said.

Containment of the fire remained at 15 percent.

On Tuesday, the fire made a significant run south down Plateau Creek Canyon past Beaver Creek and the northeastern tip of McPhee Reservoir. Overnight, strong winds pushed the fire farther south and east past Forest Road 529 but still north of House Creek Road (Forest Road 528).

Planning section chief Bruce Short said the fire’s southeastern growth past Beaver Creek was of “great concern.”

The bulk of the firefighting team was focused Wednesday on the south side of the fire, known as Divisions X and Z. The fire’s southwestern edge also was seeing active fire activity, Short said.

The fire was expected to be active Wednesday as winds, high temperatures and low relative humidity persisted.

A more robust Type 2 incident management team composed of local, state and federal agencies – Rocky Mountain Team Black from Pueblo – was expected to assume command of the fire on Thursday. In July, the team took command of the Lake Christine Fire northwest of Basalt.

The Dolores School District RE-4A is coordinating with the San Juan National Forest and fire officials to set up a Plateau Fire command center at the school gymnasium, said school Superintendent Phil Kasper. A large influx of firefighters and support staff was expected to arrive in Dolores and at the school command center in the coming days.

About 185 personnel are currently assigned to the fire, including two Hotshot teams, from New Mexico and Durango. Current equipment includes four helicopters and four fire engines, and two more were on the way, said Short.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality advisory for portions of west-central and Southwest Colorado through 9 a.m. Thursday, including Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata San Miguel and Archuleta counties. It includes but is not limited to Cortez, Dolores, Dove Creek, Mancos and Durango. In general, if visibility is less than 5 miles in your neighborhood because of smoke, air quality has reached unhealthy levels, the health department said.

Montezuma County has set up a call center for information on the Plateau Fire. Anyone with questions may call 970-564-4998 or 970-564-4999. If it is an emergency, call 911.

The Sheriff’s Office has set up an Emergency Operations Center. Contact Vicki Shaffer or Mike Pasquin there.

Plateau Fire intensifiesOn Monday, the fire grew to 5,750 acres as the fire made short runs through crowns of trees and torched groups of others.

The fire also moved down Plateau canyon with northerly winds, low humidity and higher afternoon temperatures. That warming trend was expected to continue, along with low humidity.

The fire has burned since July 22 about 13 miles northeast of Dolores. Containment was estimated at 15 percent on Monday, with full containment expected on Aug. 30.

About 185 personnel are working on the Plateau and West Guard fires, which are about 13 miles apart and burning on the San Juan National Forest in Montezuma and Dolores counties. Both are being managed for full suppression.

The West Guard Fire, west of the Glade Guard station northwest of Dolores, has scorched 1,424 acres, up from 100 acres last week. It was 90 percent contained on Wednesday. Kopack said West Guard crews were mopping up and monitoring the fire, and felling hazardous trees. The fire was described as “smoldering.”

The West Guard Fire was discovered on July 22 by a helicopter working on the Plateau Fire, a press release from the San Juan National Forest said. Both fires are thought to have been caused by lightning.