A brush fire that broke out at about 2 p.m. near County Road G1 south of Cortez moved northeast into McElmo Canyon on Friday and reached the south edge of Hawkins Preserve, forcing pre-evacuations.
Montezuma County Office of Emergency Management Public Information Officer Vicki Shaffer told The Journal that the fire spans about 300 acres.
First responders evacuated a woman and her dogs at the historic Mitchell Springs west of County Road 25, and pre-evacuations were underway for residents on South Oak Street in Cortez, according to Shaffer.
South Oak Street was closed from West Verde Vu Drive south to County Road H, the office said in a Facebook post Friday afternoon.
The emergency office advised residents to avoid the area of County Road 25/South Oak Street south of the city.
“Please avoid the area and watch for emergency response vehicles,” the office said in a Facebook post about 3:10 p.m.
Firefighters from Cortez, Dolores, Lewis-Arriola, Mancos and Towaoc were on the scene. The Durango Interagency Dispatch Center had dubbed the blaze the Hawkins fire, named for the Hawkins Preserve, north of the fire.
Firetrucks from Durango also arrived on mutual aid.
Weather conditions remain hazardous. As of 6 p.m., humidity remained at 9% and winds from the southwest continued at 12 mph, the National Weather Service said.
Helicopters were on the scene dumping water by the bucket, according to Shaffer.
Two single-engine airtankers arrived to assist as well.
According to Shaffer, Tri-State has restored power after some outages that reached from the Hawkins fire to the Summit Ridge area.
Tamara Desrosiers, who lives on South Oak Street, arrived to see that law enforcement had blocked the area off.
Police allowed her to drive to her home to retrieve her pets and some of her valuables.
“I drove down to my house and just started throwing photo albums, documents and passports and the computer,” Desrosiers said. “I had a little help, and we just loaded everything in the car.”
The smoke was heavy, and she noted that she saw neighbors from farther south along the street also were leaving with vehicles full of personal belongings.
“It’s been quite the afternoon,” Desrosiers said.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said the cause of the fire remained unclear.
The National Weather Service’s Hazardous Weather Outlook predicted that conditions were unlikely to ease up.
“Strong southwest winds, above-normal temperatures and low relative humidity combined with later than normal green-up will bring critical fire weather conditions to much of western Colorado below 8,500 feet,” the outlook stated.
Also, on Friday, a prescribed burn, ignited by helicopter, was in progress at Haycamp Mesa north of Cortez along Forest Service Roads 556 and 390.
Smoke will be visible from Colorado Highways 145 and 184, as well as U.S. Highway 160 and the surrounding communities of Mancos and Cortez.
“We have two smoke monitor(s) operational and in place located downtown in Dolores and also at the Valley Inn Nursing Home in Mancos, CO, to monitor smoke levels required by the Colorado State smoke permitting process,” The county Office of Emergency Management said Friday in a Nixle alert.
The Journal will update this story as more information becomes available.