The fire was reported shortly after 4 p.m. in the 1200 block of Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207) a couple of miles west of Durango.
Homes were evacuated north of the intersection with county roads 207 and 208. Pre-evacuation notices were given to homes south of the intersection to U.S. Highway 160. Homes along U.S. 160 a mile west of the Lightner Creek Road also were on pre-evacuation notice, meaning they may need to evacuate at a moment’s notice, said Scot Davis, of Durango Fire Protection District.
The blaze might started as a structure fire and spread to the wilderness. Flames quickly ran up a hillside and over a ridge.
Winds drove flames south through the Lightner Creek canyon along the west side of the road. As of 4:55 p.m. flames were a few hundred feet from Lighter Creek Mobile Home Park, 907 Lightner Creek Road, where a couple of dozen homes are located.
A small airplane made two passes and dropped fire retardant above the mobile home park. The fire appeared to slow as of 5:05 p.m. as the winds settled down.
Lightner Creek Road was closed to public access.
5:20 p.m.: One fire becomes two west of DurangoFirefighters are battling a second wildfire in the Lightner Creek area. They weren’t sure whether the second one, burning east of the original fire, was caused from hot embers. The second fire was moving toward Twin Buttes, a subdivision under construction west of Durango.
5:30 p.m.: Two fires, residents plead to save petsFirefighters battle two fires in the Lightner Creek area. The first appears to have started as a house fire that spread to the wildland and headed south down Lightner Creek canyon.
The second fire was about three acres and burning east of the first fire. It was unclear whether the first fire sparked the second fire.
No one is being allowed to turn onto Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207) from U.S. 160.
Residents were visibly upset about not being able to return home for pets.
“A bunch of us have animals up there,” said Jordan Epstein, a resident of Tall Pine Apartments. “Our cats are up there, and our neighbor’s dog.”
6 p.m.: Firefighters unsure how blaze startedFirefighters were unsure whether the Lightner Creek Fire started as a house fire or as a wildland fire.
“We don’t know chicken and egg on that one,” said Scot Davis, of the Durango Fire Protection District. “It was just too fast.”
The La Plata County Fairgrounds was opened for evacuees.
6:16 p.m.: More hot, dry weather expected ThursdayHot, dry and windy conditions are hampering firefighting efforts west of Durango.
Winds were gusting up to 28 mph near the Durango-La Plata County Airport and are likely stronger at higher elevations, said meteorologist Andrew Lyons, of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
It was 88 degrees in Durango about 5 p.m., Lyons said.
Dry weather is predicted to continue for the next few days. “This weather pattern is pretty stagnant; there is not a lot change with it,” Lyons said.
A red flag warning was issued until 8 p.m. Wednesday, and another warning will go into effect from noon until 8 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
Red flag warnings are issued when fire danger is particularly high because of wind, high temperatures and low humidity.
6:20 p.m.: Lightner Creek Campground evacuatedAbout 100 guests were evacuated from the Lightner Creek Campground, said camp host Valerie Firth.
It was a “mass exodus,” she said.
Many of the guests rode the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad on Wednesday, and were not around Wednesday afternoon to retrieve their possessions, she said.
6:24 p.m.: More evacuations ordered west of DurangoResidents on County Road 206 and the Twin Buttes area were ordered to evacuate shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday. The evacuation did not apply to the Westwood Apartments, which were under pre-evacuation. There are no homes in the Twin Buttes subdivision, but construction workers were in the area.
6:50 p.m.: Firefighters identify home destroyed in blazeFirefighters said the only home to have burned in Wednesday’s Lightner Creek Fire as of 6:50 p.m. was at 1255 Lighter Creek Road (County Road 207). The property was purchased in 2014 by Christine Polinsky for $831,000, according to the La Plata County Assessor’s Office. The property has a main home and several secondary structures on 4.2 acres.
Firefighters are unsure whether the fire started in the home or was consumed as part of a wildland fire.
7 p.m.: Fire grows to 100 acres; 140 homes evacuatedThe Lightner Creek Fire is estimated at 100 acres in size, up from the previous estimate of 25-50 acres. Firefighters said people from 140 residences have been asked to evacuate.
7:05 p.m.: Neighbors report hearing three loud boomsNeighbors of the home where the fire started, Jack and Hope Schirard, heard three large booms back-to-back from Christine Polinsky’s house about 4 p.m., Hope Schirard said.
She did not believe anyone was home when the fire started.
They thought the sound might have come from a gas explosion, but did not smell gas.
Firefighters wsaid the cause of the blaze remained under investigation.
The Schirards were the first to arrive at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, designated evacuation center.
They said their home seemed safe because the fire was moving away from it.
All recreation trails in the Test Tracks west of downtown are closed. These include Hogsback, Leyden and Hidden Valley trails.
7:40 p.m.: 140 homes evacuated west of Durango; fairgrounds provides shelterAbout 140 homes have been evacuated. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has gone door-to-door to inform residents of evacuations, and residents have been notified by the county’s emergency notification system (Reverse 911).
The American Red Cross provided assistance and resources at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.
Evacuations have been ordered for:
All residents on County Road 207 north of the intersection of County Road 207/208 and residents on County Road 206, with the exception of the Westwood Apartments at County Road 206 and U.S. 160. Also, Twin Buttes Subdivision, Animas High School and Hogs Back Trail System.
Pre-evacuations have been made for residents on County Road 208; U.S. 160, a mile west of County Road 207; and Dakota and Westwood Apartments on County Road 206.
8 p.m.: Home destroyed before firefighters arrivedHope Schirard said she called 911 to report the fire at the home about 800 yards southeast of her house but someone else had reported it a minute before, she said.
“House went up in flames,” she said.
Firefighters arrived 20 to 30 minutes later but by that time it was destroyed, she said. There were two dogs in the kennel at the home and Hope Schirard didn’t believe the dogs survived.
Schirard also called the owner’s boyfriend after the fire started and he arrived about 30 minutes later, shortly followed by owner Christine Polinsky. Everyone evacuated shortly after that, she said.
8:10 p.m.: Apartment complexes prep for evacuationDurango police officers prepared residents of Westwood and Dakota West Apartments to leave their homes. Officers are asking residents to pack their cars with enough belongings for at least a few days.
Many residents were standing outside awaiting instruction from law enforcement about 8 p.m.
Also, Lightner Creek Road will remain closed through the night and it may open at 7 a.m., the Durango Fire Protection District announced.
9 p.m.: 100 residents check into evacuation centerMore than 100 people checked in to the evacuation center at the La Plata County Fairgrounds Wednesday evening, Red Cross volunteer Anita Phillips said.
By about 9 p.m. about 15 to 20 people had registered to stay for the night.
Many people came for information about the Lightner Creek Fire and stayed for dinner donated by HomeSlice Pizza.
The evacuation center was accepting pets, and dogs were allowed to stay inside the building.
Six horses were evacuated to the fairgrounds, where 14 stables were available, with more expected to open after the rodeo.
The La Plata County Humane Society sent crates and pet food to the evacuation center, said Chris Nelson, director of Animal Services.
Humane Society officers picked up pets, including seven dogs, in evacuated areas and returned most of them to their owners by Wednesday evening, he said.
Staff writers Shane Benjamin, Jonathan Romeo, Mia Rupani, Mary Shinn and Alex Semadeni contributed to this report.