The Plateau Fire north of Dolores expanded aggressively this week, jumping control lines, expanding forest closures and triggering voluntary pre-evacuation orders for residents on the mesa north of town.
By Thursday, the fire had grown to 10,000 acres, up from 8,000 acres Tuesday, and was 15 percent contained.
It was moving south and burning about 6 miles north of Dolores, down from 13 miles when it started July 22.
A more robust Type 2 team took over firefighting efforts on Thursday. It included 187 personnel, four engines, a brush mower, four helicopters and two single-engine air tankers.
The fire had been largely contained in Plateau Canyon, but high winds pushed it over control lines Wednesday and past Beaver Canyon.
“It was a witch’s brew of fire conditions that caused the fire to expand rapidly to the south,” said Rob Kopack, public information officer for the fire.
The fire continued its southern run, breaching management control lines at Beaver Canyon and at Forest Road 529, along the southern canyon rim. But Planning Section Chief Bruce Short said the fire that got past the road “was corralled.”
The fire had not reached the paved House Creek Road (Forest Road 528), and crews planned to keep it north of that point and west of the Dolores-Norwood Road (Forest Road 526), Short said Thursday.
On Wednesday and Thursday, single-engine air tankers dropped fire-retardant slurry on the southern border of the fire, and helicopters dropped water. Fire crews have been reinforcing the Forest Road 529 line with hand crews and back-burning, Short said, and a night division has been patrolling.
Back-burning efforts also were taking place on the fire side of the Dolores-Norwood Road to reduce fuels and strengthen that line in an attempt to slow the fire if it approached.
Short said fire behavior has been “fairly active but not extreme,” and ember showers were not expected.
Humidity was expected to rise to 25 percent in the coming days, up from 8 percent, and that will help moderate the fire. But unpredictable outflow winds from forecast storms nearby and dry lightning could cause problems.
Pre-evacuation notices were issued Wednesday as the Plateau Fire grew to 9,000 acres and forced road closures that reach from the northern edge of Dolores to the southern tip of Lone Mesa State Park.
The closure encompasses an area bound roughly by McPhee Reservoir on the west, Forest Service Road 527 on the east, Forest Service Road 514 on the north and the San Juan National Forest boundary on the south, including Boggy Draw.
With the latest closures, it is prohibited to be on any portion of Boggy Draw, Bean Canyon, McNeil and McPhee Overlook Trails or to access Italian Canyon or Maverick trails from the closed area. The eastern boundary comes within a mile of Colorado Highway 145.
Also on Wednesday, the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office issued pre-evacuation notices for residents in an area that includes County Road V.6 and all areas northward along County Road 31 to House Creek Road. Evacuations were not mandatory.
According to the closure order, the Dolores-Norwood Road was closed from the forest boundary north of Dolores to Cottonwood Road, or Forest Road 532. Both House Creek and Dolores-Norwood roads would be used for fire operations.
The House Creek Campground and boat dock were closed Wednesday morning, and six or seven campers were evacuated from the House Creek campground about 9:30 a.m., Short said.
Portions of the eastern shoreline of McPhee Reservoir were in the process of being closed.
A more robust Type 2 incident management team composed of local, state and federal agencies – Rocky Mountain Team Black from Pueblo – assumed command of the fire on Thursday. In July, the team took command of the Lake Christine Fire northwest of Basalt.
The Dolores School District RE-4A is coordinating with the San Juan National Forest and fire officials to set up a Plateau Fire command center at the school gymnasium, said school Superintendent Phil Kasper.
A large influx of firefighters and support staff was expected to arrive in Dolores and at the school command center in the coming days.
Montezuma County has set up a call center for information about the fire. Anyone with questions may call 564-4998 or 564-4999. If it is an emergency, call 911.
The Sheriff’s Office has set up an Emergency Operations Center. Contact Vicki Shaffer or Mike Pasquin there.
Jim Mimiaga and Trent Stephens, of The Journal, contributed to this article.