More residents evacuate Ute Park Fire

 Ute Park Fire (Photo:
Ute Park Fire (Photo: (KKTV)
Published: May. 31, 2018 at 8:09 PM MDT
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Firefighters with a little help from Mother Nature were able to stand their ground Saturday and keep the flames from spreading into a community of almost 1,000 residents.

But on the other side of the Ute Park Fire, firefighters say activity picked back up, forcing the residents of Ute Park to evacuate again.

As of Sunday morning, the Ute Park Fire has burned 31,930 acres, up from a reported 27,290 acres the day before. That's the least amount of growth since the fire started Thursday afternoon -- between Thursday and Saturday the fire had seemed to double in size on every update. The fire remains 0 percent contained.

The fire is burning on both sides of Highway 64 and is threatening the town of Cimarron (population about 900) to the east and Ute Park (population about 70) to its west. Both communities are under mandatory evacuations.

In Cimarron, roughly 300 homes are threatened. There are concerns about the historic 140,000-acre Philmont Scout Ranch, which has lost 14 outbuildings to the fire but still remains outside the perimeter. Sister station KRQE reports staff have not yet evacuated but are prepared to; there are currently no Boy Scouts at the ranch.

Evacuation shelters have been opened in Eagle Nest and Raton. Helicopters are using Eagle Nest Lake as a water source. Because air resources are being used to battle the fire, drones are prohibited from flying over the fire perimeter.

Saturday, firefighters say shifting winds slowed the growth of the fire near Cimarron but caused it to swell in size on the west side of the fire perimeter. Ute Park residents had been taken off of a mandatory evacuation order Friday night because the community was no longer threatened; Saturday's growth forced the order to go back into effect 24 hours later.

Storms are in the forecast for Sunday, which could be a mixed bag: firefighters say moisture could decrease fire activity, but outflow winds could undo any benefits. The chance of lightning also means the chance of new fires.

Highway 64 is closed between Cimarron and Eagle Nest and from I-25 to Colfax. Highway 21 is closed from Springer to Cimarron. State Route 58 is closed from I-25 to Cimarron.

It's unknown what started the fire.