East Canyon Fire Surpasses 2,700 Acres

Jun 15, 2020

This article is no longer being updated. Please click here for the latest on the East Canyon Fire.

The East Canyon Fire, burning in rugged terrain in pinon, juniper and scrub oak forests between Mancos and Hesperus, grew to more than 2,700 acres Monday evening.

According to a Tuesday evening press release from the Durango Interagency Type 3 Incident Management Team, the fire is estimated to be 5% contained. An additional infrared flight to update the size estimate has not yet been conducted.

A previous release said crews attacked the fire as safely as they could Monday as they navigated steep canyon terrain along the eastern side of Weber Mountain. Helicopters and air tankers dropped water and fire retardant in areas where ground crews couldn’t reach. Fueled by high winds and hot temperatures, the blaze made a significant push towards U.S. Highway 160 during the day. Low visibility due to smoke prompted a closure of the highway between Mancos and Hesperus on Monday afternoon, later reopening in the evening.

On Tuesday, fire behavior was calmer than what the incident management team expected. High winds picked up but did not cause the "erratic" behavior shown over the two days prior, according to a statment from the team.

Montezuma County Public Information Officer Vicky Shaffer told KSJD Monday evening that crews had issued mandatory evacuation notices to nearby residents on the north and south sides of Highway 160, as well as pre-evacuation notices to residents further east.   

Shaffer said conditions on Tuesday would dictate if further evacuations would be needed.

“It really depends on what the weather does, and what the wind does,” she said. “I have heard that we’re in for another high fire danger day, so we’ll see.”

A Type 2 Team, the Rocky Mountain Team Blue, is scheduled to take command on Tuesday night. Officials say the decision to go to the Type 2 team is due to the complexity of the fire, rugged terrain, and the number of aerial resources. 

Due to the number of aircraft responding to the blaze, officials have also enacted a Temporary Flight Restriction for 10 miles around the fire. The order prohibits flying any aircraft, especially drones, which can create a danger for pilots and inhibit operations.

“It is imperative that we don’t have to stand down our air resources because a drone is jeopardizing their air space,” Connie Clementson, Bureau of Land Mangement Tres Rios Field Office Manager, said in Monday evening’s press release.

Smoke from the East Canyon Fire and from the 35-acre Loading Pen Fire burning northeast of Dolores spread northeast into communities including Rico, Telluride, and Silverton on Monday. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expanded an air-quality advisory Tuesday evening to include La Plata, San Juan, Ouray and eastern parts of Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties. Smoke could also settle Tuesday night and Wednesday morning around Mancos and Durango. The advisory recommends that people, especially the young and elderly, stay indoors if smoke becomes thick.

The latest smoke outlook can be found on the CDPHE's website.

KSJD's Daniel Rayzel contributed reporting to this article.