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Update: Wildfire grows southeast of Mesa Verde as winds shift

A wildfire, photographed from Cortez Municipal Airport, erupted Friday afternoon on Ute Mountain Ute land south of Cortez. (The Journal)
Additional Hotshots arriving at fire west of Cortez Municipal Airport

Multiple fire agencies responded to a wildfire that erupted Friday afternoon on Ute Mountain Ute tribal land south of Cortez, and a weather front Saturday afternoon shifted the fire southeast of Mesa Verde National Park toward La Plata Canyon.

Both fires were on Ute Mountain Ute tribal land.

The Mud Creek Fire 2 was reported to the Durango Fire Interagency Dispatch Center at 2:59 p.m. Friday. It was burning in remote piñon-sage terrain on Ute Mountain Ute tribal land about 3 miles east of Ute Mountain and 5 miles west of Cortez Municipal Airport.

It was near the remote western end of Whiskey Road, according to the Durango dispatch center.

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Other agencies included Bureau of Indian Affairs fire crews and Bureau of Land Management. Type 2 and Type 3 crews, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.

Peter Ortego, general counsel of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, said two Type 1 single-engine airtankers were supporting the firefight, along with one Type 3 SEAT and two Helitac helicopters. More than 20 firefighters were on the scene Saturday, and a second Hotshots crew was expected Saturday.

Initially reported as a 1-acre fire, the fire’s footprint grew quickly to more than 10 acres Friday afternoon, sending up a plume of smoke that was seen for more than 20 miles.

At 5:55 p.m. Friday, Ortego estimated the fire had grown to about 35 acres. No structures were at risk, he said.

A second fire was burning on about 100 acres on tribal land in Trail Canyon, southeast of Mesa Verde National Park, according to the Durango Interagency Dispatch Center. A Type 2 fire crew of 11 firefighters was on the ground, and about a dozen smokejumpers have arrived to assist in the firefight, Ortego said.

Saturday, a “weather squall” brought strong winds blowing southeast, increasing the fire’s size and shifting its movement southeast, Ortego said Saturday afternoon.

The two fires started in record-breaking hot weather in Southwest Colorado and amid a fire ban and red flag warning in Montezuma County. The red flag warning, which means critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or are expected, remains in effect until 9 p.m. Sunday.

Winds were blowing from the northeast about 15 mph when the fire was reported. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and high temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior. Relative humidity Friday was reported at 16%, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures this week reached more than 100 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday, and hit 95 degrees at the city airport by 2 p.m. Friday.

The weather service forecasts continued hot and dry weather for the weekend, with highs reaching 97 degrees.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.