About five homes were evacuated and two subdivisions were placed on pre-evacuation notice Friday night for a wildland fire northeast of Durango.
The evacuations were ordered about 5:45 p.m. The homes are located west of County Road 501 and between county roads 502 and 240 (Florida Road), said La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham.
A couple hundred homes were placed on pre-evacuation notice between Helen’s Store and County Road 501, including the Tween Lakes and Enchanted Forest subdivisions, meaning they should be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
County Road 245 was completely closed until reopening about 8:25 p.m., she said.
The fire, dubbed the “358 Fire,” was reported about 3:45 p.m. on private property near Sunrise Lane and County Road 245, northeast of Durango.
It was putting up a straight column of smoke as of 5:30 p.m. and was burning through thick fuels, said Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.
“Lots of smoke, lots of country, lots of potential,” Knowlton said while on scene. “Crews are trying to hold the fire and prevent it from moving into heavier timbered areas.
“We are concerned with the heavy growth of timber in that area between County Road 245 and County Road 240, and there is a potential of heavy wind tomorrow (Saturday) with a red flag warning,” Knowlton said. “We want property owners in that area to be aware and monitor messages that will be coming from La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and La Plata County Office of Emergency Management.”
Bruce Evans, chief of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District, said the fire was about 30 to 40 acres in size as of 7:30 p.m. Friday.
It was started by someone shooting a gun recreationally at a private gun range, he said. The shooter wasn’t using any special ammunition that is considered especially fire prone, he said.
“That’s all it takes is one thing bouncing off and a spark in these grasses, and it’s gone,” Evans said.
Southwest Colorado is in an “exceptional drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. La Plata County enacted Stage 1 fire restrictions, but the restrictions don’t prohibit recreational shooting, Evans said.
“He was doing nothing illegal; it’s just that things got out of hand pretty quickly with it,” Evans said.
Knowlton said the fire burned from one side of a canyon to the other.
“With the sun setting, we’re starting to see the wind subside a bit, which is giving all the seven aircraft an opportunity to work the slope,” he said. “We’re going to continue to monitor it while the aircraft do their work, and we’ll reassess it here around dark or shortly after and start developing plans for (Saturday)”
Upper Pine River Fire Protection District was providing structure protection for homes that were in close proximity to the fire, but as of 5:30 p.m., none of the homes was immediately threatened, Knowlton said.
The fire started near the east entry of Sunrise Lane, where it connects with County Road 245, he said.
“The cloud column is going basically straight up, but we’re worried about the heavy timber ridge line area that is north of County Road 245 all the way over to County Road 240,” Knowlton said.
Several resources, including a helicopter, were fighting the fire, said Cam Hooley, spokeswoman for the San Juan National Forest. Aircraft from the Durango Tanker Base were preparing to drop fire retardant on the blaze.
No homes were lost and no injuries were reported as of 7:30 p.m.
Residents were fortunate firefighting aircraft were stationed in the area, but the 358 Fire is competing with other area fires, including one in New Mexico just across the Colorado state line, one near Wolf Creek Pass and one near Pueblo.
A federal Type III firefighting team planned to take over command Friday night.
Light smoke from the 358 Fire was visible from vantage points across the county, including Bayfield, northeast Durango and Durango-La Plata County Airport.