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Firefighters at the East Canyon Fire are turning their attention toward its south side as it continues to burn through steep terrain southeast of Mancos.
The lightning-caused fire started on Sunday and has grown to 2,764 acres as of Thursday morning. Chris Zoller, operations chief for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team, said progress on containment is expected within the next couple of days, possibly as early as later Thursday. Zoller also said he doesn’t anticipate an additional closure of U.S. Highway 160 between Mancos and Hesperus, but the possibility remains.
The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday morning that evacuees within the county’s side of the fire are allowed to return home. Only residents will be permitted reentry to the area, which will remain under pre-evacuation until further notice. Residents who do not have a pink evacuee card must pick one up at the Mancos fire station before returning.
Most of the fire’s smoke will be coming from its south side, a primary area of concern for firefighters. Its southwest portion is burning on a mesa where crews hope to hold it from spreading down into lower elevation.
The Rocky Mountain Type 2 Blue Team took over operations at 8 p.m. Tuesday from the Durango Interagency Type 3 Incident Management Team, a transition a statement from the latter said was due to the complexity of the fire and the availability of aerial units.
The incident management team also reported no homes have been damaged by the fire, but it did damage a couple of pieces of personal equipment and a small homemade bridge. A flight restriction, including for video drones, remains in effect for a roughly 9-mile radius around the fire to avoid interference with firefighting aircraft.
Meanwhile, between Dolores and Rico, the lightning-caused Loading Pen Fire has grown to 38 acres with 5% containment. Crews are building fire lines from a meadow along the Dolores River through the top of a canyon rim, according to a statement from the San Juan National Forest. Drivers are also being reminded not to stop to view the fire while driving on state Highway 145, as its narrow and winding roads create a traffic hazard for cars entering and exiting the road.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment continues to issue air quality advisories for southwest Colorado, including Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel and La Plata counties. The department is advising people to stay indoors if the smoke gets thick in your area, especially for the elderly and those with heart or respiratory problems.
This article may be updated.