By Jim Mimiaga
The Roatcap fire that flared up Wednesday morning a few miles from Dolores and burned more than 400 acres has been 70 percent contained, fire officials said Thursday evening.
More than a hundred firefighters successfully battled the blaze, which started in rugged terrain south of Dolores at the corner of P.5 and 29. No structures were lost.
At a community meeting in Dolores Thursday night, Montezuma County sheriff’s officers announced that a 53-year-old resident of the area was arrested and charged with fourth- degree arson, a Class 4 felony, for allegedly starting the fire. His name was not released.
“It was not intentional, but when there is an act so reckless you need to be held accountable,” said Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell of the arrest.
Previous reports had said that the fire started when a trash burn got out of control.
The suspect went to jail and has a $3,000 bond, according to a press release.
Lt. Ted Meador of the sheriff’s office told the Free Press that an arson charge can be for “knowingly or recklessly starting a fire that threatens lives and property.”
He said, “When you put people out of their homes overnight and put firefighters at risk, then it is a crime.”
Evacuations and road closures were lifted, sheriff’s officials reported, but there will be an initial check-in process requiring proof of residence. The check points were reported to be at CR 30 and Highway 184, and at CR 29 and CR P.
Once residents return home, the check point will be lifted Friday. Residents should expect continued smoke and should be vigilant about flare-ups in the coming weeks.
Mop-up will continue for days, and smoke and lingering hot spots are expected. Fire crews and sheriff’s deputies will continue to monitor the area for weeks.
Fire officials credited fire crews on the ground battling the blaze by hand for extinguishing the fire.
“The fire was in such a tough area, we couldn’t use water trucks and it was too windy for helicopter drops, so the job went to the hand crews,” said Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde. “They knocked it down.”
Scott McDermott, a Forest Service/BLM fire official, said a change in the wind direction pushed the fire back on itself, preventing another flare-up. The fire burned about 400 acres in 24 hours through tinder-dry piñon-juniper forests and through dried willows in the canyon bottom.
There is not a fire ban in the county currently. But when burning trash or fields, people need to be smart about it, officials said.
“Call dispatch and let them know,” Lt. Meador said. “Common sense has to play a part for obvious reasons. When there are 50-mph winds, why burn?”
According to a report by the Cortez Fire District, on July 12, 2010, another brush fire at roads P.5 and 29 was possibly a controlled burn that got away, threatening nearby structures. Lt. Meador wouldn’t confirm or deny whether that fire two years ago was started at the residence of the person charged with fourth-degree arson in the Roatcap fire.