Numerous blazes keep firefighters busy in region

Hundreds of firefighters were battling several sizable lightning-caused wildfires in western Colorado Friday, including a large blaze that burned west of one that forced evacuations a week earlier north of Rifle.

At least four also were burning in Rio Blanco County, including the Wild Rose Fire in the county’s southwest corner, which Friday afternoon was estimated to be 1,065 acres in size and 10 percent contained. The increase in acreage from Thursday was due to improved mapping. At least 192 people were fighting the fire.

A fire had grown Friday from 15 acres to at least 120 acres about 13 miles east/northeast of Ridgway and several miles east-southeast of Silver Jack Reservoir, in the Uncompahgre National Forest. The East Fork Fire closed the reservoir; the Owl Creek Pass, Big Cimarron, Little Cimarron and High Mesa roads; and the Alpine, East Fork, Little Cimarron, Fall Creek, Big Park, Middle Fork and Wetterhorn Basin trails.

Stage One fire restrictions are scheduled to take effect Monday on the Gunnison and Uncompahgre national forests. These include restrictions such as a general prohibition of fires outside established campgrounds; limiting of smoking to within vehicles or buildings, developed recreation sites or areas at least 3 feet in diameter that are clear of flammable materials; and requirements for spark arrestors and having on hand a fire extinguisher and shovel when using a chain saw.

On Friday, the 400-acre Brush Creek Fire northwest of Rifle Gap Reservoir was being fought by about 90 firefighters. It burned just a few drainages west of the Ward Creek Fire, which covered nearly 500 acres about a week ago and had temporarily forced the evacuations of about a dozen homes and the closures of campgrounds and a state fish hatchery. The Ward Creek Fire was fully contained Thursday but continues to burn in parts of its interior.

No houses were threatened by the Brush Creek Fire as of mid-afternoon Friday. Two helicopters were dropping water picked up from Rifle Gap Reservoir, but half the reservoir remained open to boating. Fire spokesman Glenn Adams said the fire was being driven by winds, but appeared to be heading toward moister, higher-elevation areas that could eventually stop its spread.

Rio Blanco County Undersheriff Michael Joos said the Rifle-area fires were causing reports of smoke and falling ash as far away as Trappers Lake in the Flat Tops.

Rio Blanco also had the 100-acre Collins Fire and the 11-acre Ryan Gulch Fire burning in the Piceance Creek area southwest of Meeker. Joos said the Ryan Gulch Fire was 75 percent contained.
A small fire also was burning across Colorado Highway 139 from the Wild Rose Fire.

Joos said none of the Rio Blanco County fires was posing an immediate threat to structures as of mid-day Friday. Two homes near the Wild Rose Fire remained on pre-evacuation alert, and Encana has shut in gas wells and evacuated a gas plant in the vicinity.



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