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Evacuations ordered, 6 structures lost in 15,751-acre Junkins Fire

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CUSTER COUNTY, Colo. -- Evacuations were ordered Monday because of a fast-moving, wind-driven wildfire in Custer County.

Officials said one home and five out buildings had burned in the Junkins Fire as of Monday night. They said any additional evacuations would depend on where the wind drives the fire.

The fire had burned 15,751 acres by late Monday night, according to officials. It is 0 percent contained. It was reported about 3:40 a.m. Monday. The cause has not been determined.

Around 80 personnel, four single-engine air tankers, two type-1 helicopters, two National Guard helicopters and three heavy tankers were working to fight the fire.

Resources ordered include nine engines, six hotshot crews, 11 hand crews and one bulldozer. A type-1 management team is expected to take over the fire at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

The flames were fanned by high winds and started in the area of Highways 96 and 165 east of Westcliffe. The Pueblo County sheriff said 600 acres burned in the county.

In all, 175 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders Monday night. People in another 70 homes were on pre-evacuation alert.

Evacuations were ordered in Custer County for county roads 358, 385, 387 and 389; the Eagle Spring Ranch subdivision; Highway 165 from McKenzie Junction to Highway 78; Highway 96 from McKenzie Junction to County Road 390; Greenwood Road; and Bobcock Hole.

Evacuations were ordered in Pueblo County for North Creek Road from County Line to Central in Beulah; and Simonson Trail and North Creek Road from the Pueblo County line to Beulah.

An evacuated resident said her neighbor lost a home in the fire.

Fire managers said the area that's burning hasn't had a fire in about 140 years and that the fuel is thick.

The fire jumped Highway 165 at mile marker 1 and is expected to cross Highway 96, said Cindy Howard with the Custer County Office of Emergency Management.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed Highway 96 between Wetmore and McKenzie Juncation and westbound Highway 165 was closed at mile marker 5.

Evacuation sites are available at Valley Bible Fellowship and First Southern Baptist Church in Westcliffe.

There's also an evacuation center open at Rye Middle School and the American Red Cross said it opened a center at Craver Middle School in Colorado City.

Large animals can be taken to the Saddle Club at the Custer County Fairgrounds or Draper's Ranch, the Custer County Sheriff's Office said.

In Pueblo County, a shelter has been set up at the Colorado State Fairgrounds.

Schools were closed Monday in Beulah because of the fire. Smoke from the fire is settling in the Beulah Valley, resulting in health concerns.

An air quality health advisory was issued for Pueblo County because of the fire.

“In general, if you can see ash/smoke or smell smoke, it is recommended that you avoid outdoor physical activities,” said Sylvia Proud, public health director at the Pueblo City-County Health Department. “If visibility is decreased in your neighborhood to less than five miles, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.”