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Lightning sparks more than a dozen fires

The East Toe fire, southwest of Towaoc, grew to 62 acres Saturday and was contained by Sunday. (Courtesy Montezuma County)
All contained; largest was 62-acre East Toe fire near Towaoc

More than 15 lightning-caused fires sparked in Montezuma County and on Ute Mountain tribal land in the past several days, according to local officials.

The largest was the East Toe Fire, southwest of Towaoc, which started Saturday and grew to 62 acres, reported Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart.

A Type 3 federal wildfire crew of 40 firefighters fought the blaze and contained it by Sunday.

Two single-engine air tankers and a helicopter responded, and made drops on nearby fires. The adjacent Middle Toe Fire grew to 4 acres, and has been contained. Two bulldozers were also on scene.

The Ute Mountain Fire Department and the Cortez Fire Protection District responded to protect structures.

“Shifting winds and dry conditions were a concern,” Heart said. The fire was a mile from a home, and 3.5 miles from Towaoc.

The Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center reported 15 to 16 fires Monday through Tuesday from Pagosa Springs to the Utah border, said Andy Lyon, spokesman with the San Juan National Forest. Almost all of those fires were contained to less than one-tenth of an acre in size, he said.

About half of the fires were spotted by the state’s multi-mission aircraft, which has been doing daily flights across the region using thermal-imagery technology.

"The rain is great (but) the rain has not yet fallen equally,” Lyon said. “And fire danger still remains very high especially to the south and southwest. We would encourage everybody to be careful out there. Enjoy the rain, but still be careful.”

There were many other lightning-caused fires on Ute Mountain Ute land over the weekend, including on top of Mesa Verde, Heart said. They have all been contained, and most were under 1 acre.

Firefighters are monitoring the area and putting out hot spots. There were no structures lost and no injuries.

Montezuma County fire departments also responded to lightning-caused fires in the past several days, reported emergency manager Jim Spratlen.

A fire southwest of Pleasant View Monday evening grew to 3 acres. A crew of 25 firefighters fought the fire, and single-engine air tankers dropped fire retardant.

“They are all controlled and being monitored,” Spratlen said.

Cortez Fire Protection District crews were called to several small lightning fires in the McElmo Canyon area, said Cortez Fire Protection District Chief Jay Balfour, including on Tuesday evening off Road J. They are all contained and were under 1 acre.

Burn bans for the county and Ute Mountain Ute tribe remain in place.

“It is still dry, especially in lower elevations. Rainfall has been very scattered and not consistent,” Balfour said.

Deputy Editor Shane Benjamin contributed to this article.