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Update: Bear rescued from East Canyon Fire as blazes continue to burn in southwest Colorado

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Published 5:21 PM EDT Jun 17, 2020
A plane drops retardant on the East Canyon Fire, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Colorado.
Bureau of Land Management via Inciweb

AZTEC — Colorado Parks and Wildlife rescued a bear with burned paws from the East Canyon Fire, which is burning in Montezuma and La Plata counties near Mancos.

The East Canyon Fire is one of two fires burning in southwest Colorado near New Mexico that are contributing to smoke pollution in San Juan County. The other fire, known as the Six Shooter Fire, is burning near Bondad.

The 43-pound yearling male bear was rescued June 16 and is currently at a rehabilitation facility in the San Luis Valley. According to a press release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, it is expected to make a full recovery.

“We always hate to see injured animals, but we’re pleased we were able to rescue this bear so we can nurse it back to health and return it to the wild,” said Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager in Durango, in the press release.

A young male bear was rescued from the East Canyon Fire on June 16. It is shown at Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s rehabilitation facility in the San Luis Valley.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Wildlife officers received a phone call from the fire dispatch center late in the afternoon on June 16 after firefighters saw the bear, which appeared to be injured. According to the press release, the bear walked across a meadow and into the reeds on the east side of the fire in the Cherry Creek Road area.

Thorpe and two other wildlife officers arrived at the location around 5:40 p.m. The bear did not move as they approached.

Steve McClung, one of the wildlife officers, said in a press release that they could tell it was really hurting.

It was sitting in the reeds and the officers used a pole to push back the vegetation so they could safely sedate it using a tranquilizer dart.

Wildlife officers believe the bear was born in the winter of 2019 and is now living on its own away from its mother.

“Across the road from where we found it the area was burned heavily,” McClung said. “There were little spot fires and some stumps burning. We can’t say exactly what happened, but it probably got caught and had to move across some hot spots.”

The bear was examined at the Frisco Creek wildlife rehabilitation facility and veterinary manager Michael Sirochman said the burns will not cause any permanent damage.

“The prognosis is good and the underlying tissue is healthy,” Sirochman said. “We cut off the burned tissue that was sloughing off and we put on bandages.”

Sirochman anticipates the bear will be released back into the wild near the area where it was found in approximately eight weeks.

East Canyon Fire

The East Canyon Fire outside of Mancos has burned public and private lands in Montezuma and La Plata counties. Crews had the fire at an estimated 5% containment on the evening of June 16.

The fire’s size was downgraded from 2,703 acres on June 16 to 2,568 acres on June 17.

The East Canyon Fire, which was sparked by lightning over the weekend, is moving down small canyons on its east flank, according to an emailed update. It is also breaching retardant lines on top of a mesa in southwest Colorado.

“Firefighters are looking for safe ways to access these points and will use aircraft support as needed,” the update states.

A map shows the East Canyon Fire and the various divisions fighting the blaze.
Rocky Mountain Team Blue

According to the update, the four engines that patrolled overnight reported little activity until 3 a.m. on June 17. At that time, the fire picked up a little but all of the activity remained within the perimeter.

“No homes have been lost or damaged by the fire; however, the fire did burn two pieces of personal equipment near homes and a small homemade bridge on the south end,” the update states. “Firefighters are protecting individual homes and critical infrastructure as they build containment lines.”

While U.S. Highway 160 was closed Monday due to the fire, the incident management team’s Operations Chief Chris Zoller said it will remain open today unless the fire or heavy smoke forces them to close it. Zoller spoke about the operations in a video that can be seen on the La Plata County Government’s Facebook page.

Zoller said most of the fire that has burned on the north end near the highway has died down a little.

“Most of the smoke you’re going to be seeing is going to be coming from this south side,” he said, pointing to the area on a map.

Firefighters are facing rugged, steep terrain as they work to contain the blaze.

Six Shooter Fire

Meanwhile, the Six Shooter Fire continues to burn in the Bondad area north of the state line off of U.S. Highway 550. The fire is named after the canyon it is burning in.

The fire was reported around 3:30 p.m. June 16 and has since grown to 220 acres, according to an update from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. It is 15% contained.

The Six Shooter Fire is pictured on June 16 in Colorado.
Lindsay J. Box/Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council Communication Specialist

“Lightning from the previous weekend’s storm had been determined to be the cause of the Six Shooter Fire,” the update states. “The Tribe is also working with oil and gas operators in the area to shut-in facilities in the vicinity of the fire in an effort to mitigate any potential impact from those operators to first responder’s ability to contain the fire.”

Durango Interagency Incident Management Team type 3 has taken over the firefighting operations at the Six Shooter Fire. Crews from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Southern Ute Agency Fire Management, Los Piños Fire Protection District, Durango Fire, Florida Mesa Fire, and modules from the States of Colorado and Oklahoma are working to suppress the blaze.

“Smoke will be visible to the local communities throughout the duration of the fire,” the update from Southern Ute Indian Tribe states. “Smoke from wildfires can cause health concerns and some individuals are more at risk of complications.”

 Community members can monitor air quality on the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Environmental Programs Division Ambient Monitoring website.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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