Ute Park fire in Colfax County grows to nearly 5,000 acres; smoke blankets Cimarron

Fire affects internet, cell service in Taos Valley

By Cody Hooks and Morgan Timms
chooks@taosnews.com and photos@taosnews.com
Posted 5/31/18

Updated: 5:30 a.m.

The Ute Park fire burning east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains grew to nearly 5,000 acres Thursday night (May 31).

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."

Officials closed U.S. 64 between Eagle Nest and Cimarron temporarily due to the fire, which had jumped the highway, according to the Red River Fire Marshal's office. The fire was last reported to be moving east northeast.

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Ute Park fire in Colfax County grows to nearly 5,000 acres; smoke blankets Cimarron

Fire affects internet, cell service in Taos Valley

Posted

Updated: 5:30 a.m.

The Ute Park fire burning east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains grew to nearly 5,000 acres Thursday night (May 31). 

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."

Officials closed U.S. 64 between Eagle Nest and Cimarron temporarily due to the fire, which had jumped the highway, according to the Red River Fire Marshal's office.  The fire was last reported to be moving north.

The Colfax County fire grew from 150 acres at 4:30 p.m. to about 1,200 acres by 7 p.m. on Thursday (May 31), according to Wendy Mason, communication coordinator for the New Mexico State Forestry.

By 8:30 p.m., wildland firefighters at the scene were estimating the fire was nearly 5,000 acres in size burning in ponderosa pines and grass.

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

Hummingbird Lane, a main road in the unincorporated community in Cimarron Canyon, has been evacuated, according to the Angel Fire Fire Department Facebook page.

Highway 64 between Eagle Nest Lake and Cimarron Canyon is currently closed, according to a news release issued by State Forestry.  Approximately 150 structures are threatened in the Ute Park Area, according to an update from state fire officials at 9 p.m.

Evacuation centers have been set up at the Eagle Nest Senior Center and at the Cimarron Baptist Church. Ute Park has been evacuated.

Cimarron residents received a text this evening recommending non-mandatory evacuations. Residents were told to prepare for mandatory evacuation. Officials are setting up an evacuation center at the Raton Convention Center. 

Cimarron city councilor Laura Gonzales was at city hall Thursday night at 11 p.m. and said by phone that they expected to be there through the night answering questions and helping residents. Gonzales said officials were still recommending evacuation, especially from a neighborhood known as Lambert Hills, but said it was not yet mandatory.

"If we reach a mandatory evacuation status, we will notify citizens using the call system and law enforcement officers will patrol the streets broadcasting the change in status," Gonzales wrote in a post on a city information board. 

The NRA Whittington Center near Raton, the Laguna Vista Lodge in Eagle Nest and other businesses offered places for evacuees to stay free of charge. 

Firefighters from Angel Fire, the scout ranch, and Raton are responding and state forces from further south are coming to the scene, said Larry Osborn, Colfax County fire marshal. 

By 7:30 p.m., the Eagle Nest volunteer fire department reported that all the water from nearby ponds had been used up. Air tankers are pulling water from Eagle Nest Lake. The lake has been closed to help with firefighting efforts. 

Philmont Ranch staff reported there are no scouts at the ranch currently and all staff are accounted for. 

The fire temporarily impacted a main fiber optic line through Ute Park, taking out internet service in the Taos Valley, according to Andrew Gonzales of Kit Carson Telecom. He said Kit Carson was working to restore internet service through redundant lines. 

By 11:30 p.m., Gonzales said data services were back up but cell services were still affected in Taos.   

Cimarron Municipal Schools was having a cookout for staff Thursday afternoon. When they heard about the fire, they brought hot dogs and chicken over to cook for the firefighters, according to school superintendent Adán Estrada. "We just wanted to help out our neighbors," he said. 

Four air tankers, two air attack and three helicopters have been ordered for the firefighting effort as the blaze grows. Type 2 engine crews and Type 1 Hot Shot firefighting crews, who have specialized skills and training, have also been requested. 

The smoke plume is visible from Taos, the Mora Valley and other areas in Northern New Mexico.

The smoke was blowing into Trinidad, Colorado Thursday evening. 

This is a developing story. For updates, check back here at taosnews.com.

Editor Staci Matlock contributed to this report. 


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