Wind whips up Montrose County fire

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON The Daily Sentinel—Visibility worsened in the Grand Valley on Saturday after a dusty sunset, above, the previous day, as seen over Colorado National Monument. Strong winds from the west resumed, kicking up more dust. Smoke from a rapidly growing wildfire to the south, in western Montrose County, added to the haze.



A wind-whipped wildfire grew to more than 3,000 acres in Montrose County near the Utah line Saturday, and authorities ordered multiple evacuations and road closures in the area.

The Sunrise Mine Fire ignited about 5 p.m. Friday in remote, rugged terrain about four miles north of Paradox on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, according to Montrose Interagency Fire Management Unit spokeswoman Shannon Borders.

Fire crews from eight agencies actively worked to fight the fire.

The Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse evacuated Buckeye Reservoir, a popular recreation area, as well as the Rock Creek and Sinbad Valley areas. The Sheriff’s Department closed Buckeye Road, R1 Road and U5 Road, Borders said.

High winds in the area have made information about containment and estimated control times difficult to obtain, Borders said.

Longtime Paradox resident Pat Mann called conditions “terrible” Saturday, saying visibility was no more than a quarter-mile near her house, which she estimated to be “about five miles as the crow flies” from the flames.

“I thought (the wind) would cut down, but it’s back, and I’ve got apricots, peaches and cherries” blown off the trees and on the ground, Mann said.

No injuries were reported and no structures were damaged as of Saturday evening, although firefighters worked to protect three homes in the area, Borders said. She didn’t know how close the fire is to the homes.

Fire officials are asking the public to stay away from the area north of Paradox and Buckeye Reservoir.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

The fire near Paradox blew up during a second consecutive day of gusting winds that plagued western Colorado and eastern Utah and created a dust, smoke and sand cloud in the Grand Valley that obscured Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa and the Bookcliffs. Wind speeds reached above 60 mph in Mesa County, and an 86-mph gust was recorded on Douglas Pass in Garfield County, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Heavy air tankers and thousands of firefighters are on standby across Colorado as fire managers keep a close watch on high winds and hot temperatures at the start of Memorial Day weekend. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said two heavy air tankers have been taken to Grand Junction, where the fire danger is highest.

Staff writer Mike Wiggins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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