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Officials aware of 31 fires in southwest La Plata County

Nineteen of those blazes are controlled or extinguished
An aircraft drops slurry on the Dry Gulch Area Fires on the Southern Ute reservation in southwest La Plata County. (Courtesy of the Durango Interagency Coordinating Group)

Fire crews worked Monday to suppress dozens of fires on the Southern Ute Indian reservation in southwest La Plata County, as weather conditions continued to be hot, dry and windy.

Eighteen fires were reported Friday after a dry lightning storm swept across the Fort Lewis Mesa area causing the Dry Gulch Area Fires, formally called the North Cinder Buttes Area Fires. Since then, 31 separate fires have been discovered in the fire area.

Firefighters have controlled 10 and extinguished nine of those fires, according to the Durango Interagency Coordinating Group and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

“The remaining 10, those are the fires that are continuing to be worked on,” said Scot Davis, a spokesman for the Interagency Coordinating Group on Monday morning. “This is all from the same lightning storm.”

No structures were threatened and no evacuations had been ordered as of Monday. And no new fires started over the weekend.

The largest lightning-caused fire was the 10-acre Iron Springs Fire, off County Road 136 about 3 miles east of Marvel as the crow flies.

About 70 fire personnel, a helicopter, one water tender and eight fire engines were responding to the fire area, according to an Interagency Coordinating Group news release. The engines were provided by local and regional fire protection agencies, including Lefthand Fire from Boulder, South Arkansas Fire from Salida, Montrose Fire, Canon City Area Fire and Mancos Fire.

A red flag warning was in effect from noon to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. The region is expected to see temperatures up to 95 degrees, humidity below 14% and winds gusting up to 30 mph. No thunderstorms with dry lightning are expected Monday, the news release said.

Stage 1 fire restrictions were issued last week for the Southern Ute reservation. The restrictions prohibit open burning, agricultural burning, campfires and fireworks.

Fire crews plan to maintain suppression efforts on the Iron Springs Fire, continue to address hot spots and watch for any reignition, the news release said.

Smoke is visible from La Posta Highway (Colorado Highway 140) and to local communities. People should avoid County Road 136 and the west end of County Road 100.

The tribe is also working with oil and gas operators in the fire area to shut-in facilities and mitigate any potential impact on first responders’ ability to contain the fire, the news release said.

Two fires also started in Montezuma County last weekend, both caused by dry lightning.

The Trail Canyon Fire is burning about 10 miles northwest of Red Mesa on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. The fire grew from 40 acres Saturday morning to 840 acres by the afternoon.

As of Monday morning, it was 881 acres in size and its perimeter was 30% contained, according to InciWeb.

The Mud Creek Fire 2 was reported Friday afternoon on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation near Tawaoc and about 3 miles east of Ute Mountain. The fire spread over 150 acres before it was fully contained Saturday night.

La Plata County, the San Juan National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management have initiated Stage 1 fire restrictions. Montezuma County has banned open fires and the use of fireworks.

Both Montezuma and La Plata counties are considered to be in either extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe of five categories listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“We have extremely dry fuels so the amount of moisture in the fuels out there is very low. We’re in a hot, dry and windy environment,” Davis said. “The biggest takeaway is that anything that produces a significant amount of heat outdoors should be strictly monitored.”

It’s to a point that, if a riding lawn mower hits a rock, the resulting spark could start a grass fire, he said.

“It does not take much,” Davis said.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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