Wildfire near De Beque eases up
DE BEQUE—Skye Sieber looked from De Beque late Friday afternoon toward the site of the Pine Ridge Fire and liked what she saw.
“Yeah, this is looking good,” the spokeswoman for the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit said. “... This is looking so much better than yesterday.”
More favorable weather had vastly slowed the spread of the blaze, after it charged across thousands of acres Thursday.
Fire conditions improved enough, in fact, that at 9:30 p.m. Friday authorities lifted the evacuation order for some residents. Mandatory evacuation orders still are in place for people living east of 45 1/2 Road between T Road and Colorado Highway 65.
The fire continued to be estimated at 12,000 acres in size late Friday afternoon, unchanged from that morning.
A more accurate estimate wasn’t expected to be available until this morning, but Sieber said she expected it to show at least some growth.
However, thanks to calmer winds Friday, much of the fire activity appeared to be confined to previously unburned pockets of vegetation within the fire perimeter.
Much of the fire was putting out lighter rather than darker smoke, a sign of less intense burning.
Sieber said another thing that has helped contain the fire’s spread has been the Colorado River.
“It made that big run, and then it kind of ran into the river,” she said.
While the fire has edged up to the river, it has not crossed it or Interstate 70, and crews are trying to keep it that way. Sieber said aircraft have been positioned so they can jump on any spot fires if they are detected east of the highway or river.
The river also has served as a convenient location for helicopters to reload water for fighting the fire.
The fire had forced the closure of I-70 in part of De Beque Canyon on Thursday, but it was open Friday.
Fire behavior Friday contrasted sharply with Thursday’s, when the fire grew so big it was forming its own clouds.
“It generates its own weather when it does that, and it can send spots (spot fires) out a long distance,” Sieber said.
Containment of the fire had grown to about 10 percent late Friday afternoon, thanks to crews building additional fire lines on its western end.
Some 50 homes south of De Beque were evacuated after the fire’s blowup Thursday.
Three structures have been lost in the blaze, all on the private Mustang Ranch, a subdivided property in the area of the fire’s lightning-caused start.
Sieber said the structures consisted of things such as campers and canvas tents or tepees, and not homes.
A Type 1 incident team with access to national resources is scheduled to take over the fire response today.
Sieber said additional crews continued to trickle in all day Friday, but she didn’t have an estimate of the number of people fighting the fire.
She said as other fires in the region have eased up, that has created less pressure for resources, meaning more are available to be sent to De Beque.
More structure protection resources have been put in place. Crews also conducted burn-out operations Thursday night to create fire breaks to help protect De Beque.
Four heavy air tankers and two helicopters were being used on the fire Friday.
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey and the leadership of the Type 1 team will hold a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at the De Beque Community Center, 397 Minter Ave.
Despite the more cooperative weather Friday, Sieber noted that the forecast continues to be for dry conditions, with no relief from rain in sight.
But for a day anyway, the fire looked a darn sight better to Sieber than it did when she was among many in Grand Junction on Thursday who viewed a giant plume of smoke over the Bookcliffs.
“I thought, ‘If I’m seeing this here, I wonder what people are seeing on the other side,’ ” Sieber recalled.