MANCOS – Multiple agencies battled a large fire Monday at Western Excelsior in Mancos that led to the evacuation of nearby homes because of heavy smoke.
Although calmer winds and lower temperatures assisted firefighters in the evening, the blaze was not expected to be brought under control until early Tuesday, Montezuma County Emergency Manager Paul Hollar said.
Officials say the fire was reported at 12:55 p.m. Monday and the manufacturing facility was quickly evacuated; there were no reports of injuries. The Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Mancos opened for residents evacuated from eight homes in a mobile home park about 80 yards from the manufacturing plant, Hollar said.
“Smoke is the biggest concern, especially for the residents right across the road with the northerly north-east winds that we’ve got,” he said.
The Montezuma County Health Department announced on its Facebook page that it was sending respirators and advised residents to close their windows and shut off their air conditioning.
The county health department also suggested that residents should clear “the area north of Western Excelsior and across the highway including the trailer park and motel.” Health officials added that water pressure was expected to be reduced.
The smoke was blowing across U.S. Highway 160, but visibility was OK and the highway remained open, Hollar said.
Mancos Fire Chief Tony Aspromonte said about 5:45 p.m. Monday that the fire was contained to the inside of the building, and that it hadn’t reached the lumber yard’s large piles of aspen logs. The fire started somewhere in the middle of the building, he said, and the cause has not been determined.
At least part of the roof had collapsed by 5 p.m.
Gino Chavez, an employee at Western Excelsior, said he didn’t learn about the fire until he was on his way to work about 4:30 p.m., when he saw the smoke.
“I freaked out,” he said.
By midafternoon, 45 to 50 firefighters had responded to the Mancos department’s call for assistance, according to the Cortez Fire Protection District.
Help came from fire departments from Cortez, Dolores, Pleasant View, Towaoc, Lewis, Fort Lewis, Rico, Los Piños, Durango and Farmington, according to Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde.
Members of Colorado State Patrol, the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies directed traffic near Western Excelsior. Leslie Dent, a retired firefighter from California who was in town to visit family, put on a green vest to help block off West Grand Avenue.
“I seen a need here, and I came over to help,” he said.
Western Excelsior, at 901 Grand Ave., processes wood to create erosion-control products such as shaved aspen, also known as excelsior. The company has more than 100 workers and is the downtown’s largest private employer. The company, which has been in business since1977, is planning a big new construction project.
“It is a large employer for the town of Mancos,” Hollar said.
The company also has manufacturing facilities in Macon, Georgia, and the corporate offices are in Evansville, Indiana.
Journal reporters Jacob Klopfenstein and Stephanie Alderton, and Herald reporter Shane Benjamin contributed to this article.