Firefighters respond to wildfire with a large plume of smoke northeast of Durango – The Durango Herald

Firefighters respond to wildfire with a large plume of smoke northeast of Durango – The Durango Herald

Blaze is estimated at 20-30 acres; Evacuations lifted Friday night

An air tanker lands on the Ute Pass Fire northeast of Durango Friday. This photo was taken looking east toward the fire. (Courtesy of Jamie Knight)

About 60 homes were evacuated Friday afternoon northeast of Durango, where wildfire put up a large column of smoke and chewed through 20 to 30 acres of brush oak and pine trees in two hours.

The fire, referred to as the Ute Pass Fire, was reported around 3:45 p.m. near Ute Pass Road in the 4000 block of Florida Road (County Road 240).

No structures were lost as of 9 p.m. Friday.

The evacuation order was lifted Friday night, meaning residents were free to return home, Chief Hal Doughty of the Durango Fire Protection District said.

The cause of the fire was further investigated. Doughty said he was not aware of any lightning strikes in the past few days that could have caused the fire.

The blaze was expected to go down Friday night, which will give firefighters a chance to deploy hand lines and bulldozers to protect homes.

“This fire is far from over,” Doughty said. “Tomorrow (Saturday) they are forecasting wind speeds of 50 km/h and it will still be very hot up that slope.

“We bought some time today and sort of framed this fire so we’re well positioned to get involved and try to get some things done early in the morning before the fire activity really gets going,” he said.

A Type III response team will bring the blaze under control early Saturday. The incident team will have more command personnel and be able to call in more resources to put out the fire, he said.

The Ute Pass fire was reported around 3:45 p.m. Friday near Ute Pass Road in the 4000 block of Florida Road (County Road 240). (Durango Fire District)

Firefighters were responding to a wildfire that put up a large column of smoke northeast of Durango Friday afternoon. (Photo courtesy)

The fire put up a large column of smoke that was visible from Durango in the late afternoon and into the evening. It burned on or within a mile of private property, federal property and possibly state land, Doughty said.

“There’s a few different ridges that come together and it’s on several sides from a few different ridge aspects,” he said. “So it’s quite complex, pretty steep country where the fire is burning right now.”

Mandatory evacuation was ordered for residents of the Ute Pass subdivision and homes along County Road 237. Residents have been referred to the La Plata County Fairgrounds for help, resources and updates.

A major area was placed on pre-evacuation, meaning residents were advised to be ready to evacuate immediately. Dozens of homes remained before evacuation as of Friday night.

La Plata County spokesman Ted Holteen said an emergency alert was sent to more people than intended to warn them of a pre-evacuation.

The pre-evacuation alert is for areas on the south side of Florida Road between Ute Pass and County Road 237, he said. Edgemont Ranch was not notified prior to the evacuation.

A map showing the mandatory evacuation area and pre-evacuation area for the Ute Pass Fire northeast of Durango. The evacuation was lifted just before 9 p.m. on Friday. (Courtesy of La Plata County)

La Plata County issued this map ahead of the evacuation around 9 p.m. Friday for the Ute Pass fire.

Doughty said about 100 firefighters were at the scene. A helicopter, two heavy air tankers, two bulldozers and a reconnaissance aircraft were also called in to assist.

Durango Police Department Cmdr. Ray Shupe warned people not to fly drones near wildfire as they could disrupt planes and cause air resources to be grounded.

The fire burned on a ridge between Ute Pass and Horse Gulch, a resort area known for its many mountain bike trails.

“There were houses that it was near,” Doughty said. “It wasn’t that the flames were licking the sides of the house, but there were houses that were close enough that they were definitely threatened.”

He reminded residents that the pink-red flame retardant dropped from air tankers is just that — fire retardant. It slows the fire, but doesn’t necessarily stop it.

Doughty said firefighters had everything they needed and residents didn’t have to worry about donating supplies or snacks. If the fire expands into a multi-day event, that may change, he said.

The best thing residents can do to help firefighters is to listen to firefighters’ instructions, especially about not burning open fires and being extra careful with potential fire starters, he said.

“Our community has been through this before,” he said. “…We all just have to take responsibility to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent these things.”

Herald Staff Writer Christian Burney contributed to this report.

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