Burnout work succeeds in Mancos-area fire zone

Lightning sparks small fire in HD Mountains

Jerilee Bennett/The (Colorado Springs) Gazette
Homeowners on Flag Way show their sentiments toward firefighters and law enforcement on Sunday in Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon Fire is now 45 percent contained, has damaged or destroyed nearly 350 homes. Enlarge photo

Jerilee Bennett/The (Colorado Springs) Gazette Homeowners on Flag Way show their sentiments toward firefighters and law enforcement on Sunday in Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon Fire is now 45 percent contained, has damaged or destroyed nearly 350 homes.

As air tankers responded to a new fire Sunday, crews worked to mop up several other nearby blazes.

Lightning late Saturday afternoon sparked a fire in Zabel Canyon in the HD Mountains, which is in the San Juan National Forest, Columbine Ranger District, said Pam Wilson, a fire information officer with the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center.

Spotting fires were reported a quarter mile in front of the fire, which was estimated between 5 and 10 acres at 6 p.m. Saturday.

One crew and a fire engine, along with two single-engine air tankers, or SEATS, one helitanker and one heavy air tanker have been ordered to assist firefighters, Wilson said.

No structures are threatened.

In Mancos, after two days of burnout operations, crews working on the Weber Fire will spend the next few days mopping up and patrolling the fire perimeter.

“Today’s activity removes a significant portion of the remaining heavy fuels that were of concern to fire officials,” fire managers said in a release Saturday evening.

As of Sunday afternoon, the fire was 10,133 acres and 75 percent contained, fire information officers said.

Fire managers are still urging drivers relying on U.S. Highway 160 to use caution, as visibility may be limited in some areas, and say those with asthma or other breathing difficulties should stay indoors or temporarily leave the area if possible.

Some fire personnel working the Weber Fire will begin re-assignment or demobilization today, the release said.

Crews also are beginning to mop up at the Lightner Creek Fire, about three miles west of Durango.

The 90-acre fire is currently 75 percent contained.

A 20-person crew and one water tender are working to mop up 66 feet in from the fire perimeter. A release Saturday evening said some light smoke was still coming from the interior of the fire.

Residents may use County Road 208, but fire managers urge drivers on the road to drive slowly and be cautious of fire traffic.

At the Escarpment Fire, burning on Ute Mountain Ute land near Mesa Verde, crews are working to contain and mop up, the release said. The fire is estimated at 50 acres.

In Colorado Springs, more than a week after it sparked on June 23, the Waldo Canyon Fire was still being attacked by some 1,500 personnel. But crews working grueling shifts through the hot weekend made progress against the 26-square-mile fire, and authorities said they were confident they finally had built good fire lines in many areas to stop the spread of the flames.

Melted bowling balls in the front yard were among the strange sights that met C.J. Moore upon her return Sunday to her two-story home, now reduced to ashes by the worst wildfire in Colorado history.

“You wouldn’t think bowling balls would melt,” she told The Associated Press by phone from the scene in her Mountain Shadows neighborhood, where she was among residents who were allowed temporary visits to areas most affected by the fire.

So far, the blaze, now 45 percent contained, has damaged or destroyed nearly 350 homes.

It was just one of several still burning in the West, where parched conditions and searing heat contributed to the woes facing crews on hundreds of square miles across Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

A line of cars a mile long queued up at a Colorado Springs middle school checkpoint, where police checked the identification of returning residents and handed them water bottles.

While searching for her great-grandmother’s cast-iron skillets, Moore marveled at the juxtaposition of what burned and what hadn’t. The bowling balls had been garden decorations.

“To find my mail in my mailbox, unscathed. It’s just unreal. Unreal,” she said. “Bird baths are fine. Some of the foliage is fine.”

Three neighbors’ homes were unscathed. Only concrete remained of other homes, including hers. Cars were burned to nothing but charred metal.

“Good Lord! I’ve never seen anything like this. And thank God there was nobody there. Thank God there were no people here. There would have been no hope,” Moore said.

Not far away, Bill Simmons and his wife, Debbie Byes, returned to their tri-level, passive-solar stucco home and found no damage – just some ashes in the driveway.

“The water and electric’s back on. You know, we’re good to go. We’re feeling pretty happy about it at the moment,” Simmons said by phone. “We’re feeling pretty sad for our neighbors and pretty lucky for ourselves. It’s been a real sobering experience.”

Authorities said they would lift more evacuation orders Sunday night, bringing the total number of people who remain blocked from their homes down to 3,000 from more than 30,000 at the peak of the fire.

Rich Harvey, incident commander for the Waldo Canyon Fire, said crews continue to make good progress.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said Sunday morning. “We still remain focused on things that could go wrong.”

Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, which so far has cost $8.8 million to battle. Dangerous conditions had kept them from beginning their inquiry, but investigators were able to start their work on Saturday.

More than 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen helped Colorado Springs police staff roadblocks and patrol streets.

A “bear invasion” confronted a few mountain enclaves west of Colorado Springs. The scent of trash had enticed black bears pushed out of their usual forest habitat by fire.

People who left in a hurry didn’t take typical precautions to secure household trash against wildlife, said El Paso County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Kramer.

“So that’s become an attraction for the bears,” Kramer said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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