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Cimarron evacuation order lifted as fire eases

The Ute Park Fire glows as it burns in the mountains above Eagle Nest Saturday night. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – With the Ute Park Fire more than 23 percent contained as of Monday morning, an evacuation order was lifted for Cimarron residents.

Cimarron Clerk Administrator Shawn Jeffrey said at midafternoon that residents had started coming back. Locals were able to return starting at noon with a phased re-entry schedule for different parts of the village.

“It’s nice to have everybody back in their homes and not be worried,” Jeffrey said. “It’s really nice. The town is alive again.” She said the village’s stores were open, other than the local bank and an art gallery. “They (had) spread out all over the place,” she said of the residents.

The nearby Ute Park community remained under a mandatory evacuation order as crews continued to work on the west and southwest side of the blaze, which has burned 36,000 acres.

Rainstorms on Sunday offered a reprieve to the nearly 500 firefighters on site. They took advantage of the wet conditions by back-burning near the fire’s eastern flank close to Cimarron.

Judith Dyess, spokeswoman for the Southwest Incident Management Team, said the rain helped a bit, but the area was expected to begin to drying out again Monday with the return of sunny, hot weather.

The fire, which started Thursday, has burned 14 outbuildings at the Philmont Scout Ranch, but no houses, although 200 homes are considered threatened in the Ute Park area, according to the federal fire Incident Information System. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Also Monday, Colfax County Clerk Rayetta Trujillo announced an updated plan for residents displaced by the fire to cast primary election ballots today at alternative locations.

Residents can vote at the regular polling location at Cimarron Village Hall, or cast provisional ballots at the Raton Convention Center or the Eagle Nest Community Center, where shelters have been set up. The provisional ballots will be qualified and counted after Election Day.

About 300 people attended a community meeting held by fire officials at Angel Fire Community Center Monday afternoon, according a spokeswoman for the fire teams. Gov. Susana Martinez and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich toured the fire area during the day, she said.