The Weber fire in Mancos that fire officials are calling human caused, increased in size over Friday night to approximately 800 acres, and has since grew to close to 6,000 acres.
Lt. Ted Meador of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office said during a press conference on Saturday morning that it appeared the fire was human caused, but did not have specifics on why investigators believe that to be the case.
Pamela Wilson, fire information officer with the Interagency Fire Dispatch Center, said the is little good news to report.
As of 8 a.m. this morning, Wilson said the Weber fire had increased in size to 800 acres, and added it burned all night and is still very active.
After getting a plane to fly over the region to get a better assessment of the fire, it was estimated that size of the fire was 2,500 acres around 12:30 p.m.
Meador said the wildfire is zero percent contained, and one of the obstacles is the area where the fire is located is very steep and rugged.
“(The fire is at) zero containment right now. Just defensive measures. The terrain is high and steep and rugged. It is hard to fight,” he said.
Wilson said the numbers will likely change as the activity picks up.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued to residents of Elk Springs and Elk Stream Ranch subdivisions in East Canyon, which included 28 homes.
As the winds picked up Saturday afternoon, the blaze appeared to reignite in the Weber Canyon area, which is where the blaze started. Large plumes of smoke were billowing out of the area, which had not been the case a few hours earlier.
That promoted new evacuation orders for residents who live south of Highway 160 on County Road 42.5 east to the county line; east on County Road H from County Road 41 (from irrigated land east).
A pre-emptive evacuation notification was also issued for residents in the Echo Basin area (north of Highway 160) along Highway 160 from Echo Basin up to the county line. The total number of homes in the evacuation area is more than 100.
County Roads 46 and 41 south of County Road G remain closed due to heavy fire traffic. The Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at the Mancos School Performing Arts Building. The La Plata County Humane Society has space for pets that are evacuated.
The main part of the blaze has moved to about a half mile from crossing U.S. Highway 160 near Mancos Hill at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Wilson said.
“There’s certainly a good possibility” the fire will cross the highway and disrupt transportation and movement of fire resources between Durango and Cortez, she said.
Another concern are the radio towers on top of Mancos Hill.
An evacuation information line has been set up at (970) 564-4999.
Preemptive evacuation notices were being issued in the Echo Basin and Cherry Road areas, and Meador said residents need to be prepared because the fire is very fluid and could change at any time..
Wilson said they are very concerned about the weather pattern, especially with the dry lightning that might hit the area later today which could result in some additional fires.
At the press conference Wilson urged residents who had not evacuated or been ordered to do so to think about what they needed to take from their homes if one was to occur.
She also said 130 firefighters were on the scene, and added this number will increase throughout the day (Saturday).
With three wildfires currently burning in Colorado, the availability of firefighting aircraft will be shifted from fire to fire, though Wilson added newer fires takes precedence with the thinking being to contain them before they increase in size.
Looking for a silver lining in the wake of the fire, Meador said the response time of emergency crews was nothing short of fantastic and asked the public to be patient with them.
“The conditions are very dangerous,” Meador said.
Cindy Shank, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Red Cross Chapter, told the residents of the evacuation center that had been set up at the performance center at Mancos High School.
She stressed that evacuees should check in with them and leave their phone numbers and addresses in case they needed to be contacted.
“Make sure you are aware,” Shank said and mentioned there was space at the performance center for those evacuees who had nowhere else to go.
Meador said residents should be prepared to leave because the fire could change in a heartbeat.
If an evacuation order is given, police would go up and down the streets to let people know they needed to leave.
“This is real and serious,” he said. “Just pay attention.”
Keith Payden visited the Red Cross evacuation center Saturday morning to get some information after he and his wife were told they needed to evacuate and he was not allowed to return to his home to pick up some medication for his wife.
They are now staying with friends in Hesperus.
“When the fire broke the crest the evacuation order became mandatory,” he said.
Payden said the firefighters are working as hard as possible, so he could not ask anything more of them.
“There is a ton of (fire) equipment down there,” he said.
Beth Wheeler visited the evacuation center to see if she could help in any way.
Wheeler said she and her family were in the mountains Friday afternoon when they saw a small plume of smoke, and added firefighters were on the scene almost immediately.
After returning to her home, which is two miles west of Mancos, she realized the small plume of smoke she had seen had exploded into a raging wildfire.
She and her family wetted down the roof of her home, thinking if the fire had shifted to the north it could have put her home in the line of the fire.
“It was pretty scary,” she said.
Reach Michael Maresh at [email protected]