Alerts issued as haze drifts into region

High winds, warm temperatures, scant moisture and fires burning in nearby regions have led to a confluence of hot, dry and even smoky conditions in the Grand Valley.

Hazy smoke was visible across western Colorado skies on Wednesday, the result of continued wildfire activity from fires in Utah and Arizona, local officials said.

Smoke in the area from those regional fires caused county officials to issue a health advisory related to air quality on Wednesday.

The Lackey Fan Fire, burning since last week about three miles north of La Sal, Utah, drew the attention of nine fire crews and three helicopters on Wednesday. The smaller Dark Canyon Fire about 26 miles west of Monticello, Utah, had three crews and two helicopters working to contain it.

Fires burning near Rifle were suppressed Wednesday by continued favorable conditions. Ward Gulch Fire spokesman Pat Thrasher said late in the afternoon that they expect there will be 100 percent containment by day’s end.

“We are a little bit concerned about the winds but we feel like (the fire line) is going to hold,” he said.

Two 20-person crews were on the 485-acre fire Gap Reservoir north of Rifle Wednesday. However, the Type 3 incident management team handling the fire planned to pass management back to local federal interagency fire crews by day’s end.

In Rio Blanco County, sheriff’s officials said a wind-driven wildfire about 20 miles southeast of Rangely prompted the evacuation of a youth camp as a precaution.

Undersheriff Michael Joos said about 40 kids and half a dozen adults were asked to leave Wednesday afternoon. He said the camp was in no immediate danger but was evacuated due to high winds. No other evacuations were immediately ordered.

The Bureau of Land Management said smokejumpers were called to the scene but were grounded by high winds.

The area has several oil and gas facilities. The BLM says the fire also is threatening structures to the north.

The continued stretch of hot, dry conditions led to some of the first fire restrictions of the season in both Delta and Montrose counties. Open fires and fireworks are now explicitly banned across Delta County and in unincorporated parts of Montrose County.

No restrictions have been put into place for Mesa County yet, but the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department — which ultimately will determine whether a fire ban is in order for the area — is monitoring local conditions.

The National Weather Service has had the Grand Junction area under Red Flag Warning — when there are gusty winds, low humidity and dry fuels — for most of the week. Their Red Flag Warning as of Wednesday evening extends through the end of the day Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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