Two fires in one day at the Purple Cliffs homeless camp south of Durango have prompted law enforcement to offer outreach on how to safely have a fire, especially as cold temperatures this winter heighten the need for outside fires to keep warm.
“The offer is out there,” said Karola Hanks, fire marshal for the Durango Fire Protection District. “It’s a matter of coordination. This is a situation that’s delicate, and we want to be careful we’re not overly assertive.”
The first fire was reported around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday. After emergency crews arrived at the scene, it was discovered that two tents had caught fire and had been put out by residents at the camp.
In that fire, a woman identified as Mya Lee, 31, was arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree arson. La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chris Burke said the case remains under investigation.
The second fire was reported about 1:10 p.m. when a temporary living structure at the camp became engulfed from a fireplace within the structure.
La Posta Road (County Road 213) was closed to give emergency crews the space they needed to contain the fire. Because of cold and dry conditions Tuesday, the fire did not significantly spread into surrounding vegetation, said Rod Allen, battalion chief.
The fire was declared out around 3 p.m., and La Posta Road was reopened. No one was injured in either fire.
Fires getting out of control at the homeless camp have been a concern in the past, especially because of the amount of forest behind the location that has the potential for becoming a significant wildfire.
But fires are also necessary for the residents of the camp to survive the winter, Hanks said.
Many residents are building makeshift fireplaces within their living structures. Some of those, as evidenced Tuesday, have the potential to catch fire and become a dangerous situation.
Fire officials would like to consult with residents to make sure similar incidents don’t happen in the future, Hanks said.