A controlled burn got out of control Monday afternoon in McElmo Canyon just east of the Sand Canyon Trailhead.
No injuries were reported, but the fire singed a hay barn and threatened a trailer home. The burn kicked up during high winds on a red flag warning, when open fires are banned in unincorporated Montezuma County.
Multiple fire departments responded to the blaze, including the Cortez Fire Protection District and Ute Mountain Fire Department. Neighbor John Tomac also assisted with a privately owned water truck, and 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.
“With the lack of moisture, the county is at a high risk for fires this year,” said sheriff’s deputy Dave Huhn, who was at the Sand Canyon fire.
The fire is under investigation, said Shawn Bittle, assistant chief for the Cortez Fire Protection District. Officials are determining when it was started and whether it was called into dispatch, which is a requirement in Montezuma County.
“Burning should not occur on a red flag day,” Bittle said.
Another fast-moving fire was reported about 5 p.m. near Ismay, at the Utah border, and firefighters responded to that one as well. Bittle said the fire consumed 7 acres of private land, and fire crews continued to douse hot spots on Tuesday. The cause of the fire was from a controlled burn four days ago that had not been extinguished, Bittle said.
“Workers building fence moved a charred log that had been smoldering, and it sparked a fire in high wind conditions,” he said.
The fire burned fast in dry grass and heavy brush and jumped a creek, but did not jump the road. Fire agencies from Cortez, Ute Mountain and Lewis-Arriola responded. Because it was near federal land, a Bureau of Land Management fire crew also responded.
Fire crews dug a fire line, and water was drafted from McElmo Creek. There were no injuries, and no structures affected. That fire and the previous controlled burn are also being investigated.
When conducting a controlled burn it is vitally important to have a water source and not leave the fire until it is 100 percent extinguished, Bittle said, no matter how long that takes. He said fire chiefs will be meeting today and will consider recommending a fire ban to Montezuma County commissioners.
“We are anticipating a heavy fire season,” Bittle said.
The red flag warning, originally set to expire at 6 p.m. Monday, was extended until 9 p.m. Monday, according to an alert from the National Weather Service. The warning covered much of Southwest Colorado, as well as Delta, Montrose and Mesa counties below 6,000 feet. During red flag conditions, fire starts are difficult or impossible to control because of the combination of strong winds, low humidity, and dry grass and brush fuels.
By Montezuma County ordinance, controlled burns are banned during a red flag day. During a suspension of the fire ban, residents in unincorporated Montezuma County are directed to call a dispatcher at 970-565-8441 the day of the proposed burn and before it is started. A violation of the ordinance may be punished by a fine of up to $1,000.
Several fires and controlled burns that have gotten away in recent days in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
On March 30, a fire destroyed a barn and all its contents, including two tractors parked nearby, according to a Montezuma County sheriff’s report. The Lewis-Arriola fire department responded to the fire and put it out. No foul play was suspected, and there were no injuries.Also on March 30, the Lewis-Arriola Fire Department responded to an out-of-control burn on Road 22. The fire burned onto neighboring property and damaged a fence, according to a sheriff incident report. The property owner said he was burning around his pond when the wind switched direction and the fire burned out of control in tall grass. The owner of fence that was damaged did not press charges and the repair was to be worked out between neighbors, the report said.On the afternoon of March 31, the Montezuma County sheriff and the Pleasant View fire department responded to a brush fire on Road 10. The fire created dense smoke and created a temporarily impassible roadway. The fire kicked up after embers from a campfire used for boiling eggs landed in grass and brush, according to a sheriff report. No injuries or structure damage were reported.In La Plata County, two fires that burned out of control Monday were contained by firefighters, one 3 miles east of Elmore’s Corner and one near County Road 302, off U.S. Highway 550.
A controlled agricultural burn was reported out of control at about 12:40 p.m. three miles east of Elmore’s Corner along County Road 225A, between U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 510, according to Scot Davis with the Durango Fire Protection District.Another fire, which started in piñon and juniper trees and burned 1 acre, was reported at about 1:45 p.m. in the 1100 block of County Road 302, off U.S. Highway 550, south of Durango. DFPD announced at 3:40 p.m. that the fire was under control.
Forrest Stone of The Durango Herald contributed to this article.