Ute Park Fire burns an estimated 8,000 acres through night

Mandatory evacuation in Cimarron; Raton Convention Center to receive evacuees

By Staci Matlock
editor@taosnews.com
Posted 6/1/18

Firefighters worked through the night to tame a wildland fire burning in Ute Park east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that had blasted through 8,000 acres of grass and ponderosa pine on private and …

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Ute Park Fire burns an estimated 8,000 acres through night

Mandatory evacuation in Cimarron; Raton Convention Center to receive evacuees

Posted

10:30 a.m update - Village of Cimarron Councilor Matthew Gonzales posted a Facebook video with an update.

He confirms that residents are now under mandatory evacuation within the Village of Cimarron. "Now that is not a need to panic. This does not mean jump in your car and speed out of here as quickly as possible." Gonzales urged safety, citing that the village is "not in imminent danger."

Households with children, senior citizens and pets are particularly urged to evacuate as air quality is expected to worsen.

State Road 21, which goes from Cimarron to Philmont and Springer, has been closed. State Road 58, which runs from Cimarron to Springer, has also been closed. "Your means to get out of town (is) U.S. Highway 64," said Gonzales.

Cell service has been very poor. Gonzales noted, "There have been cell towers that have been damaged."

Firefighters worked through the night to tame a wildland fire burning in Ute Park east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that had blasted through an estimated 8,000 acres of grass and ponderosa pine on private and state land.

The fire, which started around 2 p.m. Thursday (May 31), burned a dozen unoccupied structures at Philmont Ranch, according to state fire officials. The fire is 0% contained.

The fire forced officials to close U.S. 64 between Eagle Nest and Cimarron after it jumped the highway. The highway remained closed Friday morning. State Route 204 also is closed at Cimarron, according to a 7:30 a.m. update from New Mexico officials on nmfireinfo.com.  "Eagle Nest Lake State Park is open, but the lake itself is closed for helicopters to fight the fire," according to the official update.

Officials evacuated residents from scattered homes around the area, including Hummingbird Lane, a main road in Ute Park, Thursday afternoon. As of 9 a.m. Friday (June 1), officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order for Cimarron, according to Cimarron Village Councilor Laura Gonzales and Lorrie Zamora, the utility clerk in Cimarron.

The fire threatened about 150 homes and other structures Thursday night and Friday morning.

Internet and cell service has been impacted across Northern New Mexico Thursday and Friday due to the fire. According to Andrew Gonzales, director of Kit Carson Internet, the main trunk of the fiber optic line runs through Ute Park. Kit Carson has rerouted most internet traffic though cell service is still impacted, he said.

The lack of cell service has forced emergency managers to rely on landlines and spotty landlines. "It adds a significant challenge for communication," said Lucas Brooks, a Red Cross disaster program specialist posted in Eagle Nest.

Smoke from the fire settled into the community of Cimarron Friday morning. "The smell is strong and pretty heavy," wrote Cimarron city councilor Laura Gonzales about 4 a.m. on a Cimarron Information Board on Facebook. "I encourage anyone with respiratory issues to consider evacuating as soon as possible given the heavy smoke. This is not mandatory, just advisory."

An evacuation center has been set up at the Raton Convention Center.

The Colfax County fire grew from 150 acres at 4:30 p.m. to more than 4,500 acres by 9 p.m. on Thursday (May 31), according to Wendy Mason, communication coordinator for the New Mexico State Forestry.

Wildland firefighters at the scene were estimating the fire was nearly 5,000 acres in size by 9:30 p.m.

The fire was initially reported at 2 p.m. Thursday (May 31), according to nmfireinfo.com, but its cause remains unknown.

The ongoing hot, dry and windy weather is likely to hamper firefighting efforts. 

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque issued a critical fire weather warning for Friday across the state. A red flag warning is in effect for the region, including Taos and Colfax Counties, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. tonight with southwest winds picking up through the day.  "Another hot, very dry, breezy to windy and unstable day with more critical fire weather conditions everywhere but in the Northwest Plateau," according to the agency's website. "Extreme fire weather conditions could impact northeast New Mexico."

A Type I Hot Shot crew, firefighters who have the highest level of training and experience, was expected to arrive Friday (June 1) to help with efforts, according to Mason. Hotshots from the Carson National Forest and the Mount Taylor ranger district have been dispatched to the scene.

Numerous firefighters and engines from State Forestry,  local volunteer departments and federal agencies worked the fire on the ground overnight with support from two very large air tankers (VLAT), six heavy air tankers and four helicopters. 

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