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Fire burns 15 structures, prompts evacuations in Monte Vista, east of Wolf Creek Pass

Investigators believe fire was not intentionally set
Firefighters mop up after a fire in Monte Vista that required the response of fire and law enforcement departments from six San Luis Valley counties on Wednesday. Responders from Alamosa, Center, Del Norte, La Jara and Monte Vista battled the fast-moving blaze for a couple of hours, which destroyed homes and other structures in the city. (John McEvo/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Six families were displaced by a fire that quickly grew out of control and destroyed several homes in a rural community in the San Luis Valley, authorities said Thursday.

Fire crews worked in the damage zone in Monte Vista to assess the cause of the fire that ignited midday Wednesday and assess the damage, George Dingfelder, Monte Vista’s police chief, said in a news release.

Fifteen buildings, including houses and outbuildings, were lost or damaged, he said. A final report documenting the total number of structures lost will be released in the coming weeks.

Investigators believe the fire, which grew to 17 acres before firefighters gained the upper hand, was not intentionally set, Dingfelder said. Monte Vista police, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and investigators with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control will continue to investigate to determine its cause.

The fire broke out on the rural community’s north side about 12:15 p.m. and was already “out of control” and approaching structures as fire crews arrived, Dingfelder said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

The shaded area reflects the mandatory evacuation area in Monte Vista.

Firefighters went door-to-door to notify residents to leave their homes amid strong gusts of wind that fueled the fire, Dingfelder said. No injuries have been reported and the police department has not received any reports of missing persons, he said.

“We struggled at times to stay in front of this fire and stay out of the way because the winds were so strong,” he said.

Video taken of the fire’s aftermath showed several foundations of buildings that burned. Several 5-gallon propane tanks exploded in the fire.

Mayor Dale Becker credited volunteer firefighters and others who pitched in to attack the flames.

“It’s a disaster for Monte Vista, our small rural community,” Becker said. “They were here to take care and save our little town.”

The fire forced people from about 100 homes to leave and seek safety, Dingfelder said.

State fire officials said Wednesday evening that people in Monte Vista likely will continue to see smoke from the fire because heavy material still was smoldering. (John McEvoy/Special to The Colorado Sun)
A firefighter pours water of the remains of a building that burned in Monte Vista on Wednesday afternoon. Responders from Alamosa, Center, Del Norte, La Jara and Monte Vista helped fight the fire in gusty winds, an effort Mayor Dale Becker credited with saving his town. (John McEvoy/Special to The Colorado Sun)

About 160 customers lost power, which was expected to be restored by 11 p.m. Wednesday. Five customers were without natural gas service, the police chief said.

Fire departments and law enforcement agencies from six counties responded to the fire, said Paul Duarte, of Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control. A Type 1 helicopter dropped water on flames from above and a multi-mission aircraft was also used, he said.

A break in the wind helped firefighters make progress on containing the fire, Duarte said.

Residents who lost their homes in the fire attended Wednesday’s conference, some upset that they would not be allowed to return to their homes overnight. Dingfelder, the police chief, listened and calmly directed them to speak with him after the conference.

“I know some of us have nowhere to go. You cannot keep me out of my home,” one man said in a raised voice.

Residents were told not to water their lawns or run their sprinklers.

“My house did not burn. I am going to my house because that is the only house that I have, I have nowhere else to go,” a woman said. “If I have to, I will sit outside in my backyard and water my damn backyard all damn night.”

Smoke will be visible “for a while,” Duarte said, explaining that there is a lot of heavy material still burning in the area.

“So please be patient with us,” he said. “We’re working as quickly as we can to help you get back into your your places.”

Firefighters mop up after a five alarm fire in Monte Vista on Wednesday. Responders from Alamosa, Center, Del Norte, La Jara and Monte Vista batttled the fast-moving blaze for a couple of hours. Several structures were destroyed. (John McEvoy/Special to The Colorado Sun)
One of the structures that was lost in the fire in Monte Vista. (John McEvoy/Special to The Colorado Sun)
Firefighters mop up after a five alarm fire in Monte Vista. Several structures were destroyed. (John McEvoy/Special to The Colorado Sun)

The city is working on an emergency declaration that would bring in more assistance, City Manager Gigi Dennis said.

A video posted to Facebook by state Rep. Donald Valdez, D-La Jara, appeared to show a building engulfed in flames. Photos from the scene showed heavy fire and thick, black smoke.

Monte Vista has a population of about 4,000. The town is on the western side of the San Luis Valley.

Chris Lopez of The Alamosa Citizen contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.