A man who was burning an irrigation ditch during a red flag warning in McElmo canyon was issued a citation by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office after the fire got away from him and damaged a neighbor’s property.
According to an incident report, James Porter was burning the ditch on April 2 when it got out of control and moved onto private property in the 13000 block of County Road G near the Sand Canyon trailhead.
The fast-moving fire destroyed $20,000 worth of property, according to the incident report, including a wooden paddle boat worth $3,200, PVC pipe worth $308, wooden fence posts worth $2,000, and trees worth an estimated $15,000.
Porter was ticketed for causing the fire.
By Montezuma County ordinance, all controlled burns are banned during a red flag day or during a county burn ban. Porter did not notify dispatchers of the controlled burn as required by the ordinance, according to dispatch manager Lori Johnson.
Multiple fire departments responded to the blaze, which kicked up amid high winds and threatened a residence. The Cortez Fire Protection District and Ute Mountain Fire Department responded to the fire, and neighbor John Tomac assisted with a privately owned water truck. 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 to the scene.
The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners issued a fire ban for unincorporated areas of the county effective April 16 on the recommendation of local fire chiefs and the sheriff. Under the ban, no open fires or use of fireworks will be allowed in unincorporated Montezuma County.
The ban was issued earlier than usual because of dry, warm conditions, and it was thought that local landowners deserved some advance notice of the ban.
Drought conditions and a series of out-of-control brush fires triggered the April 16 ban, officials said. “The danger of forest and grass fires is high,” the ban resolution states.
The advance notice of the burn ban has contributed to farmers and landowners rushing to burn before it takes effect, fire officials said. They warned that those burning without notifying dispatch, during a red flag day or during a fire ban face a potential fine.
“It is important to call dispatch, because they can inform you whether burning is allowed or not on that day,” said Shawn Bittle, assistant chief of the Cortez Fire Protection District.
On Tuesday, two controlled burns required fire district assistance, Bittle said, one at County Roads 25 and L, and another at Road G.1.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning effective from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday for Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata counties.
A person conducting a controlled burn near Mancos on Wednesday was informed that it was not allowed, and the fire was put out. Firefighters were called to another controlled burn off Colorado Highway 145 that was started during the red flag warning by an 85-year old man who said he didn’t know it was not allowed, according to dispatch chatter.
A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or will shortly occur. The warning is issued when there is a combination of strong wind gusts over 25 mph, relative humidity below 15 percent, warm temperatures and low fuel moisture content, according to the National Weather Service.
Bittle said the most common mistakes made regarding controlled burns are not notifying dispatchers to determine whether there is a burn ban or red flag warning, underestimating the time it will take to burn a predetermined area, and being unprepared to control the fire, such as not having adequate water source or equipment and manpower to keep the fire under control.