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Three controlled burns escape in La Plata County

Durango Fire Protection District says conditions are different than in previous years
The Durango Fire Protection District responded to a wildfire Friday night on East Animas Road (County Road 250) about 9 miles north of Durango. It was one of three controlled burns that went out of control last weekend. (Courtesy of Harrison Kairalla)

The Durango Fire Protection District responded to three human-caused wildfires last weekend, renewing concerns about the approaching fire season and causing firefighters to ask landowners to use extreme caution.

All three fires had one thing in common, said Karola Hanks, fire marshal for the Durango Fire Protection District: Property owners who started land fires to mitigate brush, clear ditches and get rid of weeds believed they had fully extinguished their fires when in fact they had not.

“Because of the dryness that we’re experiencing, the wind conditions that we’re experiencing and the fact that it’s warming ... they each had a fire take off from them after they thought it was extinguished,” Hanks said. “That is the commonality that all three of these fires have. And that, I think, is the big point.”

The first fire was reported Friday night in the the 9400 block of East Animas Road (County Road 250) about 9 miles north of Durango in the Animas Valley. The blaze reignited and spread to U.S. Forest Service land. It burned about 4 acres, including moving into trees and threatening nearby structures.

The second fire was reported at 9:52 a.m. Saturday on Jack Rabbit Trail off La Posta Road (County Road 213) south of Durango. That fire was contained to private property and presented the least concern to structures, Hanks said.

A third fire was reported between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Sunday on private property along Murray Drive, off County Road 220 on the Florida Mesa south of Durango. That fire moved onto adjacent private properties, damaging irrigation pipes and valves, Hanks said.

Hanks called all three fires “close calls.”

Ranchers are used to being able to burn and extinguish fires with a fair amount of confidence hot spots have been squelched, she said. But conditions are different this year. A chunk of dirt turns into “dust” when squeezed by hand. Any small vegetation in the soil has no moisture and carries fire. And the wind helps fan hot spots and push flames.

“If I look at all three of these fires, they are wind-driven fires,” Hanks said.

Fire chiefs will undoubtedly be discussing the three human-caused wildfires this week and consider whether to recommend fire bans to La Plata County commissioners, she said.

“I’m concerned about how dry we are. I’m concerned that we’re going to have a fire that is going to get out of control,” Hanks said. “So if we can ask people to please, please be careful, we would appreciate it.”

The fire department also responded to a house fire at 5:25 a.m. Saturday on Coal Bank Drive in Durango. In that incident, a bathroom fan caught fire and the flames extended into the attic of the home.

Residents were asleep at the time and heard “strange noises” coming from the ceiling and called firefighters, Hanks said. The ceiling, attic and trusses were damaged, but the home was saved.

“It was a busy weekend,” Hanks said.