Pine Ridge Fire grows to 1,500 acres; Meeting tonight in De Beque
Update 11:09 p.m.
Fire managers said late tonight the fire is estimated at 10,000 acres and is growing rapidly, threatening multiple structures and forcing the evacuation of roughly 50 residents.
A Type 1 crew — the highest skill level among federal firefighters — has been ordered to battle the blaze, which by late tonight had reached — but not jumped — the banks of the Colorado River.
Officials say crews are currently assessing homes in the projected path of the fire to determine the fire danger surrounding those structures. Homeowners in the vicinity of the fire are asked to prepare their homes in the event the fire approaches them by removing combustible materials far away from the structures.
Interstate 70 remains closed between Colorado Highway 65 and De Beque and authorities urge everyone to stay away from that section of the interstate.
Update 9:57 p.m.
A Daily Sentinel photographer at the scene tonight said the fire is burning on the west side of the Colorado River in De Beque Canyon but has not jumped the river or Interstate 70. Crews are keeping a close eye on embers carried by the wind to the east side of the river and I-70 to ensure they don’t spark new fires.
Update 9:14 p.m.
In a news release issued this evening, Grand Valley Power indicated it may de-energize power lines in the De Beque area should the fire advanced toward those lines, a move that would leave customers in the area without power for an extended period of time.
Grand Valley Power said it is working with the incident commander on the fire to monitor it and has dispatched linemen to locations ahead of the fire so that they’re in position to de-energize the lines if it becomes necessary to do so. De-energizing the lines would keep firefighters safe.
In the event lines are de-energized, the power company encourages customers to keep refrigerators and freezers closed to minimize the impacts an extended outage could have on food storage. Officials said they will keep customers informed about any action taken with the power lines.
Update 8:54 p.m.
Update 7:28 p.m.
Mesa County sheriff’s deputy reports the fire has crested the rim of De Beque Canyon and is descending the canyon wall near mile marker 54 on Interstate 70, according to a police radio report.
Update 6:49 p.m.
Daily Sentinel reporter at the scene said the Western Colorado Chapter of the American Red Cross and area volunteers have shown up at Palisade High School in preparation for De Beque evacuees.
Update 6:25 p.m.
Interstate 70 is being shut down between Colorado Highway 65 and De Beque, as heavy smoke is covering the roadway, according to police radio reports.
Motorists are being rerouted at De Beque’s exit 62 to 45.5 Road, also known as the De Beque Cutoff, then to Colorado Highway 65.
Scanner reports indicate the fire is burning within about a half-mile of the interstate.
Residents who are evacuating from De Beque must take the De Beque Cutoff and Highway 65 and avoid I-70.
Update 5:45 p.m.
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department late this afternoon issued an evacuation order for all homes and businesses south of S 1/2 Road, west of 45.5 Road and east of Interstate 70.
Those affected by the evacuation should leave the area immediately via the De Beque Cutoff and travel toward the town of Mesa, then take Colorado Highway 65 back to Interstate 70. Evacuees can go to Palisade High School.
Bureau of Land Management spokesman Chris Joyner said fire behavior is considered extreme and that winds are not set to diminish for some time.
Update 4:37 p.m.
Oil and gas companies have been shutting in wells in the area of the fire as a safety measure.
About 35 well pads, most with just a single well on them, were within about five miles of the wildfire as of mid-afternoon, Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said.
Some of those may be in areas that already have burned, he said.
He noted that wells and well pads generally are free of vegetation. Contrary to the image people might have of gas wells exploding in flames in wildfires, “we’ve had wildfires burn up to a well pad and there’s nothing for them to really burn,” Boyd said.
Shutting in a well means ceasing its production of oil and gas.
Update 4 p.m.
Fire officials say the fire is very active this afternoon. Drivers on Interstate 70 between Rifle and De Beque are reporting smoke along the highway, and residents of De Beque, Parachute and Battlement Mesa are getting smoke and some ash from the fire.
The fire remains west of De Beque, and at this time no evacuation orders have been issued.
Update 3:35 p.m.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this afternoon issued a wildfire smoke health advisory for portions of Mesa County due to the Pine Ridge Fire.
Officials say light to locally heavy smoke is expected downwind of the blaze, which burning 10 miles northeast of Grand Junction. Smoke will move to the northeast toward Parachute during the day today and Friday but may pool along the Colorado River Valley at night and in the morning, affecting Palisade and portions of Grand Junction.
Fine particulates are expected to be in the unhealthy-for-sensitive-groups range in areas where smoke is thick.
The department says if visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke in a neighborhood, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy and advises people to remain indoors, particularly those with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young and the elderly.
Update 3:14 p.m.
An emergency notification call has gone out to all land lines in De Beque, advising residents to be prepared for a possible evacuation order of the town, according to Rusty Callow, a captain with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.
Update 2:45 p.m.
Our reporter near the scene reports ash is now falling from the sky on the outskirts of De Beque.
Update 2:23 p.m.
The Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit said in a news release this afternoon that fire behavior is considered “extreme,” with spotting occurring ahead of the fire. Spotting happens when secondary fires are ignited by embers carried by the wind.
Fire officials say there is currently no containment on the fire and they are evaluating the best strategy to manage it.
Update 2:15 p.m.
Two emergency phone notifications have been issued today. The first, around 1 p.m. went to all De Beque residents, reminding them of the community meeting tonight at 7. The second went out about half an hour later and was apparently targeted at businesses on the south side of De Beque, warning them to clear potential fire fuels from around their properties.
A massive smoke plume is moving northeast from the fire, towards the general direction of De Beque.
V.2 Road, west of De Beque, remains closed.
The Pine Ridge Fire near De Beque has charred 1,500 acres, roughly doubling in size overnight as firefighters prepare for a busy Thursday, federal officials said this morning.
“We’re expecting significant growth today,” said Chris Joyner, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Fire officials have scheduled a community meeting 7 p.m. today at the De Beque Community Center, 397 Minter Ave.
The fire overnight crossed through the southern edge of Mustang Ranch — a privately owned, subdivided collection of mostly dirt plots — while Joyner said they were trying to confirm this morning whether any structures or other property had been damaged. The BLM said last night seven structures were threatened. Nobody has been evacuated, Joyner said.
The blaze is burning on public and private land north of the Bookcliffs and southwest of De Beque.
Authorities late Wednesday said almost 100 firefighters were fighting the blaze, aided by three helicopters and an air tanker flown by a Canadian crew.
The fire was believed to have been caused by lightning Wednesday afternoon.
Check back today at gjsentinel.com for updates and read more in Friday’s Daily Sentinel.