The 15- to 20-acre grass fire that began Wednesday evening in western La Plata County has the Durango Fire Protection District worried about an unexpected Christmastime fire season.
“People need to be conscientious about what they are doing. Put your ashes in nonflammable containers. We need the community to come together and realize we’re having a fire danger situation similar to what we face in the summer. I’m worried,” said Fire Marshal Karola Hanks.
The fire, about 13 miles southwest of Hesperus on the Dryside, broke out about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday off of County Road 117.
Ben Thorsheim, assistant fire chief with the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District, said Thursday the fire burned 22 acres.
He said some burnout operations began about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and those operations might mean some smoke is visible from the fire. However, the smoke shouldn’t worry residents because it is coming from crews working to clear out some worrisome patches in the burn area.
He said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Hanks said the region’s moisture level is below normal for this time of year.
“We haven’t had a significant chance of moisture in a long time,” she said. “You can see the stress in the piñons.”
Grass fires like Wednesday’s blaze are a prime concern, she said, and she cautioned everyone to be careful in fields because of the low moisture level compounded by the unlikelihood of precipitation in the next couple of weeks.
The lack of lightning this time of year, she said, means any fires that might start will likely stem from bad decisions people make.
“We went out to one fire where people put out ashes like they always do, but this time it caused a fire because we’re so much drier than normal. These are the kinds of things I’m worried about,” she said.
Hanks said she’s not ready to recommend burning restrictions to La Plata County commissioners, but it is something she has to keep in mind, especially with the weather forecast pessimistic about precipitation.
Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said a “blocking ridge” is “camped out” along the West Coast, and it is preventing precipitation from moving inland. He said “there’s no end in sight” as to when the ridge will break up.
Wednesday’s blaze prompted pre-evacuation notices, but they were canceled by Wednesday evening.
A root cellar was the only structure lost in the blaze. The fire started in a field, and winds took it up a hill.