Brush fires keep crews on the run all weekend

A firefighter kicks dirt onto a hot spot while flames leap into the air in the wooded area behind him Thursday at Snooks Bottom near Fruita. Units from Lower Valley Fire Protection District, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Land Management fought the fire, which burned a number of wooded acres from the lake to the south bank of the Colorado River at the popular park.



Grand Junction firefighters work on a blaze behind 1225 Bonito Ave. on Monday. Fire department spokesman Dirk Clingman said the fire was accidental; the blaze was started by a man grinding metal in the backyard of the house to the east. The fire then traveled along the fence and torched his next-door neighbor’s fence.



QUICKREAD

INVESTIGATORS LOOK AT TWO THURSDAY FIRES AS ARSON

At least two fires from the last several days are still being investigated as arson, law enforcement said Monday.

A fire that erupted below Snooks Bottom Open Space in Fruita and consumed about three acres might have been set by a human, either deliberately or accidentally, said Fruita Police Lt. John Coughran.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating whether to charge someone with arson for an unpermitted fire that burned out of control near Whitewater the same day, according to spokeswoman Megan Terlecky.



Grand Valley fire departments and law enforcement agencies were on their toes over the weekend responding to 31 brush fires reported between Friday and Sunday, ranging across most of Mesa County.

Most of the fires were agricultural burns that got out of control because of the current tinder-dry and high-wind conditions, said Lower Valley Fire Chief Frank Cavaliere, whose agency was the primary responder on nine fires over the weekend, according to information from the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center.

“It is people that are burning large areas like ditches,” Cavaliere said. “The winds pick up, the winds shift and for whatever reason the fire gets out of control.”

Other fires reported included a 25-acre brush fire along the Gunnison River and Union Pacific Railroad tracks west of the Mesa County Landfill, a fire east of Collbran, one east of Loma and two north toward De Beque. The Plateau Valley Fire Department responded to a fire near Powderhorn Ski Resort as well, the dispatch center said.

Weekends like this strain smaller departments who rely on a few full-time firefighters plus a crew of volunteers to respond to fires and staff ambulances, Cavaliere said.

“When this is happening, you have to remember the normal emergencies don’t stop,” he said.

The weekend count of 31 didn’t include a blaze that damaged part of home in the 1200 block of Bonito Avenue on Monday. A resident using a grinder on a metal car part threw off sparks, which ignited vegetation, spreading to a wooden fence and then a home, according to the Grand Junction Fire Department. Nobody was in the home at the time of the fire. The cost of damages wasn’t immediately known.

Mesa County residents should follow burn permitting procedures, and check the Mesa County Health Department website — health.mesacounty.us — for current weather advisories, Grand Junction Fire Department spokesman Dirk Clingman said.

Joe White, emergency medical services chief for the Palisade Fire Department, said he recommends people start as early in the day as possible – permits stipulate burns may begin as soon as one hour after sunrise. Winds tend to pick up after noon, usually around 1 p.m., which can ignite smoldering embers.

“The fire’s not out until it’s cold and out,” White said. “Because of the winds … these embers can actually fly for miles. … We don’t want to see people losing homes, livestock, anything like that.”

Cavaliere also recommended having water on hand, and to cut a fire break before burning when possible.

People are also encouraged to let their neighbors know when they’re planning a large-scale burn, in case a fire jumps a field.

White said anybody planning an agricultural burn of more than an acre should give their local fire department a heads up “just to let them know.”

Cavaliere said a few weeks ago, a property owner lost a barn and the 20 bales of hay that were inside it to a fire that got out of control. On March 14, Palisade firefighters had a similar situation after a brush fire spread to and mostly destroyed an enclosed four-horse stall shed in the 3700 block of G 7/10 Road, White said.

Cavaliere said most people who conduct agricultural burns know what they’re doing, but sometimes people get ahead of themselves and don’t properly monitor conditions.

“There’s a lot more to it than just throwing a match and watching a field burn.”


COMMENTS

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“Most of the fires were agricultural burns that got out of control…” Every year the City and County for a small fee support outdoor burning by an unlimited number of property owners. This invariably leads to damage to private and public property, mass fouling of the Grand Valley air, taxing of publicly-funded fire department resources and valley residents getting sick from the smoke exposure. How is this good for our community?

The Grand Valley air is a commons. Everyone who lives here breathes it every minute of every day, across the valley. The City doesn’t sell permits that let certain residents pee in the Lincoln Park Pool. By the same token, neither the City nor the County should sanction people disposing of yard waste by changing it into stinking airborne charred remains, pumping it into the valley’s air and forcing the rest of us to breathe it.

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