Neighbors, aid workers lend help to evacuees

Safe in the loving arms of its owner, a dog is carried to a vehicle and away from the crush of onlookers along U.S. Highway 160 at Mancos Hill on Saturday after 110 houses were evacuated in front of the Weber Fire. Enlarge photo

Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald

Safe in the loving arms of its owner, a dog is carried to a vehicle and away from the crush of onlookers along U.S. Highway 160 at Mancos Hill on Saturday after 110 houses were evacuated in front of the Weber Fire.

MANCOS – Sweltering heat and horse flies couldn’t slow down the Klumker family Saturday as they steered a trailer of horses through smoky rural roads. With the Weber Fire burning just over the hill, Steve Klumker, his wife, Cynthia, and his brother Stormy worked tirelessly transporting horses and livestock to safety.

The fire, which had forced evacuation of 103 houses by Saturday evening, poured smoke across the blue sky behind them.

As several of the Klumker’s friends, family and neighbors faced evacuation, the family offered to keep their livestock safe by taking them to an area resident’s ranch.

By 3 p.m., the trio had transported animals for four neighbors, and they weren’t planning on stopping anytime soon, Steve Klumker said.

“As we speak, we’re keeping the horse trailers hooked up,” he said.

The fire started Friday afternoon, and area residents quickly organized a volunteer effort.

At the Red Cross check-in station at the Mancos School Performing Arts Building, a running list of people offering up pastures, horse trailers and a room to stay for the night hung on the wall.

The check-in station was relatively quiet around noon Saturday, but Red Cross workers said they were busy throughout the morning signing up volunteers.

“This is extremely frightening for this community,” said Cindi Shank, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Red Cross. “It’s so close to town, so it’s extremely visible.”

“We can see the slurry from here,” said Red Cross volunteer Debbie Conrads. “I’ve never seen that before except on TV.”

Fire officials said the blaze posed no immediate threats to the town.

The Mancos School Performing Arts Building was not being used to shelter evacuees Saturday, but Shank said it’s a good idea for evacuees to check in with their names and phone numbers so that Red Cross volunteers can contact them if necessary and the sheriff knows they are accounted for.

“People are going and staying with friends and family in the area, and we’d like them to check in here,” she said.

Chad Close, a resident evacuated from County Road G early Saturday, stood outside the check-in station as he discussed where he might stay that evening over the phone.

Close’s son and dog watched from the back seat of a Volvo. The trunk was filled with blankets and a sleeping pad – “stuff so we could spend the night,” Close said.

When the Montezuma County sheriff knocked on Close’s door Saturday, he told Close the evacuation was mandatory and indefinite, he said.

Another evacuee, Anne Meininger, lingered in Boyle Park on Saturday after a community briefing.

Meininger, who has a home in Elk Stream Ranch, was “scared to death” of the fire but looked forward to another meeting later in the day when she might find out a bit more information, she said.

One of Meininger’s first priorities after being evacuated was finding her cat, which scurried away when an official knocked on her door.

While the La Plata County Humane Society offered help for evacuees with pets, Meininger couldn’t bare to part with the cat,

“I don’t care if I left stuff I needed or not, I’ve got my cat, and I’ve got me,” Meininger said.

She and her husband finished building their home 3˝ years ago, but they’ve owned their property in Mancos for 11 years, and for Meininger, the pillars of smoke over the ridge brought back frightening memories.

“We bought property in June of 2001, and the Missionary Ridge Fire occurred June 2002,” she said, her words trailing off as she paused to look toward the flames.

scook@durangoherald.com