Tribal firefighters said a lightning strike Wednesday night likely caused a wildfire near Ute Mountain that spread to 15 acres by Friday.
John Trocheck, a public safety officer for the Towaoc Fire Department, said smoke was reported in the area just before noon on Thursday. At 4 p.m., Bureau of Indian Affairs firefighters were on the scene, along with air support, he said. Meanwhile, a thunderstorm that started about 4:30 p.m. caused several small fires in the Cortez area.
A thunderstorm with multiple lightning strikes went over the Ute Mountain area Wednesday night. Trocheck said it sometimes takes awhile for lightning-strike fires to produce visible smoke.
“It settled, then woke up,” he said.
At least two fires were reported during Thursday’s thunderstorm. Cortez Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Bittle said crews responded to a lightning-caused fire near County Roads BB and 18 in Pleasant View about 4 p.m., and a tree caught fire near County Roads 22 and L about 4:30 p.m. The Pleasant View fire was put out, and crews were close to extinguishing the tree by 5 p.m. On Friday Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said the department responded to about four or five lightning-strike fires total, most of which were single trees that caught fire near the County Roads 22 and L intersection or in McElmo Canyon.
On Friday morning the Ute Mountain fire had spread to 15 acres and was 3 percent contained, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs fire management officer Joe Morris. He said no structures were threatened by the fire. The San Juan Interagency Hotshot fire crew was assisting BIA firefighters with the blaze, he said.
“We’re not anticipating any (spread), but with the weather coming in, that could change,” he said.
The National Weather Service forecast showed a chance of scattered thunderstorms Friday afternoon.
All of Montezuma County has been under a fire ban since July 1. Bittle said the fire danger has gone down in some parts of the county over the past week, but not in the Cortez area.
“Our fire district is still very, very dry,” he said.
On Thursday, Mesa Verde National Park lifted its ban of open and charcoal fires in Morefield Campground, Chapin Mesa Picnic Area or park residences. Smoking is permitted in designated areas. Fireworks are prohibited in Mesa Verde National Park.
A flash flood watch will remain in effect for most of western Colorado until midnight Friday.
Mesa Verde National Park has lifted fire restrictions which have been in effect since July 1, 2017. Rain showers and cooler temperatures in recent weeks have reduced the fire danger in the park. There are no active fires in the park.