By By Shane Benjamin
MANCOS Conditions were preventing the Weber Fire from advancing on U.S. Highway 160 on Sunday evening, instead pushing the 7,000-acre blaze northwest and away from the town of Mancos.
The hot, dry conditions were far from favorable, but they so far had failed to produce the manic growth firefighters had feared.
I anticipated seeing more of that today, said Craig Goodell, the incident commander for the Type 3 federal team managing the fire.
The Type 3 team fighting the blaze was being replaced Sunday evening with a federal Type 2 team, which is larger and better equipped to wage a long-term and sophisticated attack on a complex wildland fire like Weber.
This team that came in has a little more depth and horsepower to deal with it, Goodell said.
The possibility that the fire could jump U.S. Highway 160 continued to be one of officials top concerns. At Mancos Hill on Sunday evening, the fire was holding at about ¾-mile south of the highway.
The north side of the highway is more densely vegetated and more populated.
It would be a whole different fire at that point, Goodell said.
The fire was consuming the vegetation in small, powerful bursts, producing large puffs of smoke, rather than one towering column.
In Mancos, people gathered on porches, in parking lots and along roads to watch the flames and smoke make their slow advance.
Mancos resident Charlie Campbell said he felt tense anticipation about what the fire might do.
I keep thinking of the Missionary Ridge Fire. I keep thinking, Oh, god, is this thing going to be that all over again? How far is that thing going to go? he said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation placed signs on the highway instructing travelers not to stop in a five mile stretch near the fire. Safety cones lined the highway to dissuade onlookers from pulling over.
About a dozen drivers stopped on both sides of Highway 160 just east of Mancos were told by a sheriffs deputy on a loud speaker to move out or go to jail.
Fire officials said the fire was moving down Menefee Mountain toward Mancos. This, actually, was good news because it was moving into an area where they can better attack it.
Were being patient and letting the fire come to us where we can engage it a little more safely, Goodell said.
So far, it is believed only one shed has burned.
AT&T cell service was spotty in the Mancos area on Sunday after the fire caused a cell tower to lose power. Some function of the tower had been restored but the network was not at full capacity.
The last estimate put the fire at more than 7,000 acres. About 250 fire personnel are working the fire, along with four helicopters, two single-engine air tankers and a guide plane.
Heavy air tankers that had been fighting the blaze Saturday were diverted to higher priority fires in Colorado and Utah.
Air tankers are a national resource and must go to the wildfires with the highest priority, which is determined based on human threat levels and potential property loss.
The Weber Fire, which started Friday three miles south of Mancos, burned actively Saturday night.
The fire aggressively grew all night, Goodell said. Its not shutting down at night like it would normally do.
He said this was the result of the low humidity.
The Montezuma County Sheriffs office has evacuated 110 homes and put another 350 on notice that they may need to evacuate.
About seven evacuated families were staying the Mesa Verde Motel in Mancos.
Barbara Henderson, owner of the motel, said most people are keeping their reservations despite the smoke and uncertainty.
She said she was happy to provide evacuees a respite.
Im a firm believer if you have a natural disaster like this than Id like to help them out, she said.
The cause of the fire hasnt been determined.
Henderson wasnt feeling generous toward any person that might be responsible.
You just want to strangle whoever did it, she said.