Travelers worry about road closures around wildfires

A Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputy clears cars parked along U.S. Highway 160 just east of Mancos town limits as people try to get a glimpse of the Weber Fire. Authorities don’t want people to stop on the roadside because it creates safety hazards. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

A Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputy clears cars parked along U.S. Highway 160 just east of Mancos town limits as people try to get a glimpse of the Weber Fire. Authorities don’t want people to stop on the roadside because it creates safety hazards.

Tourists and others headed for points west or south from Durango don’t seem concerned about wildland fires, but they know that the blazes could close highways.

The hot spots are U.S. Highway 160 near Mancos and U.S. Highway 550 south of Bondad. The State Line Fire closed Highway 550 for a short time Saturday.

“Last evening, someone asked about the status of the highway near Mancos,” Johanna Dadisman at the downtown Welcome Center said Sunday. “I referred them to The Durango Herald Twitter page for updates.”

Another person who was passing through suddenly realized there’s a fire and stopped to ask about road conditions on Highway 160, Dadisman said.

“Otherwise, no one has called to ask if the area is safe,” Dadisman said.

Andy Matusek at the Durango Area Tourism Office said she has fielded two inquiries – one about Highway 160 near Mancos, the other about U.S. Highway 550 south of Bondad.

“They just wondered if they could get through,” Matusek said.

Charles Britton at the Visitors Center in Santa Rita Park said a few people have asked if the fire threatens Durango. The answer is “no,” he said.

But, apparently, there’s more than a passing interest in the fires – as judged by the number of drivers who stopped Saturday along highways to rubberneck.

Travelers who stopped Saturday along U.S. Highway 160 to watch air tankers drop slurry on the Weber Fire were a potential hazard, Capt. Martin Petrik, commander of the Colorado State Patrol in Durango, said Sunday.

“It was quite a problem,” Petrik said. “I don’t have numbers, but CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) put up cones to prevent people from pulling off the highway.”

A CDOT crew Saturday installed electronic signs – “No Stopping or Standing Next Five Miles” – at the Target Tree Campground and just east of Mancos town limits.

“It was a safety issue,” CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said Sunday.

State troopers didn’t find gawkers along U.S. Highway 550 south of Bondad where the State Line Fire closed the highway at County Road 318, Petrik said.

The southbound lane of Highway 550 at the fire scene was closed, and the northbound lane was configured to handle traffic in both directions, Petrik said.

Shanks said if the Weber Fire closes Highway 160, westbound traffic would be stopped at Cherry Creek Road and eastbound drivers would be stopped at the Mesa Verde National Park interchange.

“There’s been no decision,” Shanks said. “We’ll just wait and see.”

daler@durangoherald.com

Onlookers stop alongside U.S. Highway 160 to watch the Weber Fire. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Onlookers stop alongside U.S. Highway 160 to watch the Weber Fire.

Several people stopped along U.S. Highway 160 to view activity fighting the Weber Fire. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Several people stopped along U.S. Highway 160 to view activity fighting the Weber Fire.

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