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UPDATE: Crews work to keep fire from canyon, wooded area

Fire burns 78 acres, perimeter mostly surrounded by fire retardant

9 a.m. update

As of 6:30 a.m. Thursday, the 78-acre Black Ridge Fire had 80 percent of its perimeter lined with fire retardant dropped from the air Wednesday evening.

It is estimated to be 20 percent contained by fire lines created by hand crews and dozers, and about 50 firefighters are working to fully contain the blaze and an additional 20 are expected Thursday, said Scot Davis, spokesman for Durango Fire and the Black Ridge Fire.

The crews will focus on extending the fire lines around the southeast corner of the fire to try to prevent it from dropping into an adjacent canyon, Davis said. A helicopter designed to drop water on fires will continuing work on the southwest corner to ensure the fire does not spread into a wooded area beyond the existing fire line.

“If the wind picks up and starts changing direction that would be an area where there is a lot of fuel,” he said.

The fire is not threatening structures, but the the pre-evacuation notice remains in place for residence of the Black Ridge area.

Oil and gas crews are being asked to stay away from their facilities, Davis said, although it is not an order.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, crews will reassess the situation and potentially allow oil and gas crews access to facilities within the burn area.

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A fire that had residents in the Rancho Durango ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice Wednesday afternoon was under enough control they were safe to stay in their homes for the night.

They remain on pre-evacuation status until further notified, said Scot Davis, spokesman for the Durango Fire Protection District, in a 7:35 p.m. release. The fire, which started at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, was holding steady at about 50 acres in piñon and juniper Wednesday evening as the relative humidity increased.

“Everything is replaceable except you,” said Jim Holzman, who has lived there for five years. “But I’ve at least loaded up all my interesting things.”

In addition to homes, oil and gas rigs in the area were also threatened, Davis said.

“Oil workers say they can’t access their wells,” said Durango Herald Staff Writer Jonathan Romeo, who reported from the scene. “They said a bunch of wells are in the area of the fire.”

The fire, which had already burned into burn scars from 1994 and 2004 fires also moved into the 2005 Black Ridge Fire burn scar, Davis said. Fires in burn scars typically have less fuel to feed their progress.

“Retardant has been dropped around most of the perimeter of the fire,” he said. Fire crews were planning to patrol the burn area throughout the night.

The La Plata County Road and Bridge Department towed an 18-wheel water tanker into the Rancho Durango subdivision Wednesday evening.

“The (La Plata County) Sheriff’s Office got two 5,000-gallon tankers through the military surplus program to fight wildfires,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dan Bender said. “We got them at no cost.”

The tankers are new to the county this summer, said Butch Knowlton, director of emergency management for La Plata County. One was previously used at the 217 Fire in mid-June.

“That’s going to be prepositioned,” Bender said about the tanker, “so firefighters can withdraw water throughout the night as needed.”

The areas on pre-evacuation notice include private land in the High Flume Canyon area including Rancho Durango Road in the Rancho Durango subdivision, Green Shadow Road, High Flume Drive and Loop, La Posta Canyon Road and adjoining roads – pretty much the far west portion of High Flume Canyon in that subdivision, he said.

Meanwhile, two other fires were burning in La Plata County.

Multiple structures were ablaze at 2065 County Road 101 west of Marvel, but information on whether they were homes or outbuildings was not available Wednesday evening. Durango Fire Protection District dispatched an engine from the downtown station to assist the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District, Davis said.

And a brush fire was burning southeast of Bayfield.

“Deputies were requested by Upper Pine Fire Protection District to respond to a brush fire in the 5800 block of County Road 523 that appeared to be human-caused,” Bender said. “What that means is we have three fires burning in La Plata County at the same time.”

The large plume of smoke from the Black Ridge Fire, though, could be seen for miles, including in Durango.

While no red flag warning was issued for Wednesday, the National Weather Service said temperatures above normal, low humidity – 19 percent as of 4:45 p.m. – and dry fuels would keep the possibility of fire high.

“People should remain vigilant, not just in these areas but throughout the county,” Bender said. “These fire conditions are not expected to change for another one to two weeks, and the risk of fire will continue to be with us for some time.”

The Southern Ute Tribe Bureau of Indian Affairs Fire Management Team is the lead agency on the Black Ridge Fire, with Los Pinos and Durango Fire protection districts, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Management providing assistance.

abutler@durangoherald.com

Herald staff writers Ann Butler, Jonathan Romeo and Luke Perkins contributed to this story.

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