Cedaredge fire ‘knocked out’
As a dispatcher, Sharon Grotrian knew exactly what to do when she saw plumes of smoke coming from her neighborhood — call work.
Grotrian said she was the second person to report the fire that erupted Friday afternoon on Timothy Road north of Cedaredge. The first person to call, according to Grotrian’s husband, Lynn, was a woman dispatchers told Sharon was “so hysterical she couldn’t remember her address.”
The Grotrians were among a crowd of about 90 people, mostly evacuees with some law enforcement and Red Cross volunteers in the mix, who gathered later Friday evening at Cedaredge High School for an informational meeting about the fire.
The crowd clapped when Cedaredge Fire Chief Kevin Walker told them the 60-acre fire was “knocked out” but crews would likely work overnight to suppress re-ignition.
“As far as I know, no homes were lost” in the fire, Walker said to another round of applause.
The fire began in or near a barn that was destroyed in the fire, according to Delta County Emergency Manager Rob Fiedler. Fiedler said the barn was the only structure confirmed destroyed in the blaze and said he did not know as of Friday night how many homes were in the evacuation area or what may have caused an explosion sound heard by several witnesses.
There were conflicting reports late Friday about the extent of damage.
Eyewitness James TenNapel said he believed the fire destroyed at least three homes. TenNapel, who lives in the 24000 block of Timothy Road, said he had just finished mowing the lawn around 4 p.m. at the family’s ranch when they saw thick plumes of white smoke.
“It hit that pinyon and cedar and just took off,” TenNapel said, adding winds appeared to push the fire to the north and up Grand Mesa.
TenNapel said his 15-year-old son was hospitalized with second-degree burns while attempting to warn residents — many of them elderly — to evacuate their homes.
One woman was observed trying to fight 50-foot flames with a garden hose, he said.
Seventy to 80 firefighters responded to the blaze, by Walker’s count. Fire crews from Cedaredge, Delta, Hotchkiss and Olathe responded to the fire, as well as three federal firefighting crews and Colorado State Patrol, Cedaredge Police Department and Delta County Sheriff’s Department personnel.
A helicopter and a plane from Olathe Spray Service dumped water on the flames, a process that went quickly, Fiedler said, because a pond near the ignition site provided water for the aircraft.
A fire crew from Rifle is expected to arrive in Cedaredge this morning. Fiedler said evacuees should also expect work to begin at 7:30 a.m. today on restoring landline phone service that was disrupted by the fire.
The fire led to evacuations between roughly Tannin Road and the area north of Ute Trail and between 2375 Road and Surface Creek Road.
Delta County Undersheriff Mark Taylor said at Friday’s meeting that evacuees were expected to be sent back to their homes about 9 p.m.
Lloyd and Marilyn Liebetrau said they saw smoke while driving back from Delta and had just enough time to drop off groceries at their home in the evacuation area before a contractor told them they needed to leave. The Liebetraus moved a little more than three weeks after relocating from Lakewood.
“We always knew (a wildfire) was a possibility, but we didn’t think it would happen that soon,” Marilyn Liebetrau said.
Vickie Miller, who lives a mile and a half away from where the fire broke out, said she was sitting on her couch when several fire engines screamed by her house.
She said she noticed smoke and followed them, camera in hand, noting several cousins and her brother-in-law work for the Cedaredge Fire Department. She snapped numerous photos of tall flames and black smoke billowing into the sky. She said she heard multiple homes were on fire but didn’t personally observe any.
Johnny Bell, who owns a fruit orchard on Surface Creek Road south of the fire, said he and his wife saw several plumes of smoke and a helicopter dumping water.
“We talked to the guy who was directing traffic and he said there’s a going to be lot of them (houses) that go (up in flames),” Bell said.
He said there was a steady breeze that occasionally gusted in the area Friday afternoon. The National Weather Service on Friday evening reported winds out of the southwest at 21 mph, gusting to 30 mph, at Blake Field Airport in Delta.
A red flag warning, an indicator of critical fire weather conditions, is in effect for virtually all of western Colorado from noon until midnight tonight. Forecasters say winds could kick up to 45 mph.
“Fire ignitions will be very difficult to control with very high rates of spread expected both this evening and Saturday afternoon into the early evening hours,” the Weather Service’s website reads.