Local and federal fire districts teamed up to fight several small fires in the area Tuesday.
Three fires were started by lightning late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, fire officials said, and the cause of another was undetermined.
At 3:45 p.m., a lightning strike burned two trees on County Road H, said Cortez Fire Protection District Chief Jay Balfour. Mutual aid was provided by the San National Forest Interagency fire crews.
Once out, Cortez firefighters pulled off to attend to a quarter-acre brush fire that broke out at 5:52 p.m. along U.S. Highway 160/491 south of Cortez, Balfour said. Ute Mountain Fire Department and Lewis-Arriola Volunteer Fire Department assisted in putting out the fire.
The cause was undetermined, Balfour said, and could have been a cigarette thrown from a vehicle, a sparking chain or an animal that sparked a powerline.
And at 6:09 p.m. federal and local fire crews responded to a quarter-acre fire on private land in the Phil’s World area east of Cortez. Its cause was also suspected to be an earlier lightning storm.
“We had Cortez, Mancos, and Forest Service crews fighting the fire burning in trees brush and grass,” Balfour said. “I give credit to nearby landowners, who also responded with shovels to help build fire line.”
A control line was put in around the fire by dark, and it has been extinguished.
Also on Tuesday, San Juan National Forest fire crews responded to quarter-acre fire 4 miles south of Rico.
The Bootleg Fire burned in heavy timber on steep terrain. Fire crews hiked in to chop in fire line Tuesday, and the Durango Helitack helicopter dropped buckets of water on the blaze. The fire was fully contained, and mop-up continued Wednesday, said Pat Seekins, federal fire management officer. Lightning was the suspected cause. A nearby landowner reported the fire.
No structures were damaged in any of the fires. A power pole on the U.S. 160/491 fire was charred, and it was checked out by Empire Electric Association crews.
“Fire danger is very high right now,” Balfour said.
A statewide burn ban prohibits controlled burns, and Balfour urged residents to avoid campfires, be careful with cigarettes and avoid parking vehicles in high grass, which could spark from engine heat. Mow tall, dry grass by 9 a.m. to reduce the risk of sparking a fire.
The San Juan National Forest is under Stage 1 fire restrictions. The dry fuels and extreme drought conditions creates potential for wildfire at all elevations, Seekins said.
As hunting season ramps up, there is increased potential for human-caused fires. Unattended campfires in the forest continue to be a threat. Long-term weather forecasts show dry conditions continuing.
“It is repeat of last year, when fire season lasted into November,” Seekins said.