MONTE VISTA — Emotions ran high as Monte Vista residents gathered at the Ski Hi Complex in Monte Vista on Wednesday night, April 20 to hear a briefing from local law enforcement agencies about the fire that occurred earlier in the day. At the time of the press conference, the fire was smoldering and being watched by local and state fire officials.
Monte Vista Police Department Police Chief George Dingfelder started the press conference by stating that at 12:15 p.m. Alamosa dispatch was notified of a fire on the north side of Monte Vista.
“Police and fire immediately responded and found a large fire that was already out of control,” Dingfelder said. “We notified dispatch to immediately send out a reverse 911 and officers started going door-to-door to begin evacuations because the fire was spreading very quickly. Winds were very strong and gusting and some officers were even caught in the middle of a couple of fires but were able to get out.”
Dingfelder said that there were structures that immediately caught on fire and emergency responders struggled at times to stay out of the way of the flames as the blaze rapidly spread.
“We put out a request for multiple agencies to come assist and law enforcement, fire and other agencies from across the six counties responded immediately,” he said.
A map of the evacuation zone was provided on the main screens in the conference room and showed a 17-acre area from Truman Street to the west and north of Newcomb Street to east of Washington Street. The map has been provided by law enforcement and is included below.
“The biggest thing that people are wanting to know is if there were structures lost and yes, there were structures lost. We do not know at this time an exact number of structures that were lost. We have no reports of any injuries or missing persons at this time and that is the best news we are able to share with you right now,” continued Dingfelder. “Anytime you have structures burned in a fire, we have to treat it as a criminal investigation and that is what we are doing. We do not suspect that at this time, but we are treating it as such.”
Dingfelder said the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was aiding in the investigation and will continue to do so as the investigation moves forward.
“A lot of this stuff is going to take us quite a while. We expect the evacuation zone to be in place for quite a while because we have an investigation that we have to do. I cannot give you a time frame as to when that will be released and people can return home,” Dingfelder said.
Next to speak was Fire Management Officer Paul Duarte with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control Center (CDFPC). Duarte explained that there were 20 to 30 homes that were still evacuated, stating that initially there were 100 homes evacuated out of precaution but that a majority of those first homeowners were allowed to return home.
“The important thing that I wanted to talk about was the work that all of your volunteer firefighters did on this fire,” Duarte said. “There was an opportunity for things to be very bad. Make sure to thank them for the work they do. And it's not just fire departments. It’s law enforcement and EMS, it’s the emergency managers. We had local, county, and state resources on this fire and so thank them. They are the reason there wasn’t more damage and they did a great job.”
Duarte said that a Type 1 helicopter, a multi-mission aircraft, was relaying information from above and 10 different agencies were on the scene helping to extinguish the flames, helping with evacuations and road closures, and seven fire departments with multiple resources and five different EMS services on scene.
“There is local, state and federal agencies coming to make things happen,” Duarte said. “The fire is in much better shape right now. We are working around all of the structures and making them secure. There will be smoke visible for some time.”
Duarte turned the microphone over to Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker.
“We had a lot of local people helping to haul water to the fire,” Becker said. “Construction companies, concrete companies, fertilizer companies and it was great to see how this community comes together.”
Becker became emotional speaking about the partnership and community strength that was shown Wednesday and how proud he was to be part of a community that is there for one another in times of need.
“I never thought I would have to do this. You’ll have to excuse me. This isn’t what I wanted to sign up for because there are people here tonight that are here and will never see their homes again. This was a disaster for Monte Vista. Our small rural community pulled it together with all the fire departments that came in and all the people that were here and they were here to save part of the town,” said Becker. “I am sorry we are here for this but thank you everyone for being here and for what you did.”
Monte Vista City Manager Gigi Dennis said the city was working to get an emergency declaration, that would open the door to more resources for the community.
“My heart goes out. It has been a very somber day for our community. Our friends and neighbors are suffering,” Dennis said. “I am here to tell you we are working on an emergency declaration that will help bring additional resources. Rio Grande County Social Services is here to help, the local food bank has gift cards available for those in need and people can make donations directly to the food bank. Cash donations can be made through the Monte Vista Community Foundation.”
Rio Grande Commissioner Gene Glover said the county was also seeking an emergency declaration as well to bring in even more resources in the coming days.
Several residents displaced from their homes expressed angst over the situation and were further briefed on details of their homes privately after the press conference.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is made available.