Weber Fire at 7,000 acres but keeps distance from Hwy 160 and Mancos

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County officials watch as a Skycrane firefighting helicopter heads to the Weber Fire just south of Mancos Hill on U.S. Highway 160. Enlargephoto

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

County officials watch as a Skycrane firefighting helicopter heads to the Weber Fire just south of Mancos Hill on U.S. Highway 160.

@Body text:Conditions were preventing the Weber Fire from advancing on U.S. Highway 160 on Sunday evening, instead pushing the 7,000-acre blaze northwest and away from the town of Mancos.

The hot, dry conditions were far from favorable, but they so far had failed to produce the manic growth firefighters feared.

“I anticipated seeing more of that today,” said Craig Goodell, the incident commander for the Type 3 federal team managing the fire.

The Type 3 team fighting the blaze was being replaced Sunday evening with a federal Type 2 team, which is larger and better equipped to wage a long-term and sophisticated attack on a complex wildland fire like Weber.

“This team that came in has a little more depth and horsepower to deal with it,” Goodell said.

The possibility that the fire could jump U.S. Highway 160 continued to be one of officials’ top concerns. At Mancos Hill on Sunday evening, the fire was holding at about three-quarters of a mile south of the highway.

The north side of the highway is more densely vegetated – and more populated.

“It would be a whole different fire at that point,” Goodell said.

The fire was consuming vegetation in small, powerful bursts, producing large puffs of smoke, rather than one towering column.

In Mancos, people gathered on porches, in parking lots and along roads to watch the flames and smoke make a slow advance.

Mancos resident Charlie Campbell said he felt “tense anticipation” about what the fire might do.

“I keep thinking of the Missionary Ridge Fire. I keep thinking, ‘Oh, god, is this thing going to be that all over again? How far is this thing going to go?’” he said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation placed signs on the highway instructing travelers not to stop in a five-mile stretch near the fire. Safety cones lined the highway to dissuade onlookers from pulling over.

About a dozen drivers stopped on both sides of Highway 160 just east of Mancos were told by a sheriff’s deputy on a loud speaker to move out or go to jail.

Fire officials said the fire was moving down Menefee Mountain toward Mancos. This, actually, was good news because it was moving into an area where they can better attack it.

“We’re being patient and letting the fire come to us where we can engage it a little more safely,” Goodell said.

So far, it is believed only one shed has burned.

AT&T cell service was spotty in the Mancos area Sunday after the fire caused a cell tower to lose power. Some function of the tower had been restored, but the network was not at full capacity.

The last estimate put the fire at more than 7,000 acres. About 250 fire personnel are working the fire, along with four helicopters, two single-engine air tankers and a guide plane.

Heavy air tankers that had been fighting the blaze Saturday were diverted to higher priority fires in Colorado and Utah.

Air tankers are a national resource and must go to the wildfires with the highest priority, which is determined based on human threat levels and potential property loss.

The Weber Fire, which started Friday three miles south of Mancos, burned actively Saturday night.

“The fire aggressively grew all night,” Goodell said. “It’s not shutting down at night like it would normally do.”

He said this was the result of the low humidity level.

The Montezuma County Sheriff’s office has evacuated 110 homes and put another 350 on notice that they may need to evacuate.

About seven evacuated families were staying the Mesa Verde Motel in Mancos.

Barbara Henderson, owner of the motel, said most people are keeping their reservations despite the smoke and uncertainty.

She said she was happy to provide evacuees a respite.

“I’m a firm believer if you have a natural disaster like this than I’d like to help them out,” she said.

@Body text:The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.

Henderson wasn’t feeling generous toward any person who might be responsible.

“You just want to strangle whoever did it,” she said.

shane@durangoherald.com

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
A helicopter fights the Weber Fire. Enlargephoto

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald A helicopter fights the Weber Fire.

DAN BENDER/Special to the Herald
A firefighting plane attacks the Weber Fire Sunday. Enlargephoto

DAN BENDER/Special to the Herald A firefighting plane attacks the Weber Fire Sunday.

DAN BENDER/Special to the Herald
The Weber Fire burns near a home Sunday. Enlargephoto

DAN BENDER/Special to the Herald The Weber Fire burns near a home Sunday.

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
Smoke erupted in bursts from the Weber Fire. Enlargephoto

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald Smoke erupted in bursts from the Weber Fire.