Photo courtesy of Bob Thompson
Photo courtesy of Bob Thompson
MANCOS – Infrared readings showed the Weber Fire near Mancos had expanded to 8,300 acres by midnight Sunday night. Most of the growth was on north and northwest edges of fire, said Mary Huels, a fire information officer.
The fire is still about a mile southeast of Mancos and a half a mile south from U.S. Highway 160. Authorities are reporting zero percent containment.
No homes have been lost, but Huels confirmed that one small outbuilding burned in the fire. No injuries have been reported.
About 160 fire personnel were working on the blaze, along with four helicopters, three single-engine air tankers and a guide plane.
A Type 2 team from South Dakota took over fire fight work Sunday evening, bringing more resources and experience to fight the fire.
Even so, more resources have been requested, including a Type 1 Hot Shot team, Huels said.
Hot, dry weather and wind predicted for today continue to be a concern for firefighting crews, Huels said.
“We are expecting active fire behavior with additional torching,” she said.
The weather forecast for today calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 80s. On Tuesday and Wednesday, there is a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Today, fire officials were expecting spot fires to flare up easily amid the tinder dry vegetation.
On Sunday, conditions were far from favorable, but they failed to produce the manic growth firefighters had feared.
“I anticipated seeing more of that today,” said Craig Goodell, incident commander for the Type 3 federal team managing the fire.
The Type 3 team fighting the blaze was replaced Sunday evening with the federal Type 2 team from South Dakota.
“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 Highway 160 continued to be one of officials’ top concerns.
Goodell said the location was “fairly defendable,” meaning he was confident firefighters could hold the line.
“With that said, there is no guarantee that the fire won’t cross the highway,” he said.
The north side of the highway is densely vegetated – and more populated.
“It would be a whole different fire at that point,” Goodell said.
Should the fire jump the highway, firefighters will mount a aggressive attack to prevent further spread, he said.
The fire was consuming vegetation in small, powerful bursts, producing large puffs of smoke, rather than one towering column.
The Weber Fire was ranked the third highest priority in the Rocky Mountain Region, beneath the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins and the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs.
Although no homes have been lost, the fire came within 80 feet of one home Sunday in the Elk Stream Ranch subdivision two miles south of Highway 160, said Dan Bender, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
In Mancos, people gathered on porches, in parking lots and along roads to watch the flames and smoke make a 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 this thing going to go?’” he said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation placed signs on the highway instructing travelers not to stop along a five-mile stretch near the fire. Safety cones lined the highway to dissuade onlookers from pulling over.
About a dozen drivers who stopped on both sides of Highway 160 just east of Mancos were told by a sheriff’s deputy on a loudspeaker to move along or go to jail.
The blaze moved in mostly a northeast direction Sunday, but part of it moved northwest down Menefee Mountain toward Mancos.
The cost of the fire as of Sunday morning was $350,000.
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 started Friday three miles south of Mancos.