The closure area for Pine Gulch Fire was about 640,000 acres at the fire’s peak. That area has been reduced to 247,000 acres this week and on Tuesday, just before 6 p.m., the Garfield County’s Sheriff’s Office announced that all evacuation and pre-evacuation orders for the fire have been lifted.
While road closures remain in effect, the fire, which has stalled at a reported 139,007 acres for the past several days, appears to be in its final stages.
The closure area reduction is expected to help improve public access with hunting season coming up.
Containment on the fire was reported to be at 81% on Tuesday, with 18% of suppression repair completed.
At a community briefing on Tuesday, fire officials were asked if the Sept. 15 estimate on full containment being reached is still accurate.
“It’s our best guess at this point,” Bureau of Land Management Grand Junction Field Office Manager Greg Wolfgang said. “It’s certainly going to be weather-dependent. We’re optimistic that will be the accurate date.”
Once containment is reached, further evaluation will be needed.
“One thing we are concerned about are flash floods and mudslides,” Wolfgang said. “On these steep slopes that burned intensively, there is a high potential for landslides. We’ve already seen that on parts of the fire.”
Fire incident meteorologist Jeff Colton said the west slope of the fire received about 1/10 of an inch of rain on the fire on Monday.
“I just had reports that we had some ponding of ash at some of the high valleys so that will be something we are watching for the next several years,” he added. “Anytime it rains we will be concerned about flooding or flash flooding and debris flows along the fire scar.”
The fire is not quite as active as it once was as no perimeter growth was expected to begin the week. Infrared scans also showed a decrease in the heat of the fire.
Suppression damage repair efforts also continue at the fire.
“The great thing about the northwest region is that it means we have other fires burning as well,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Randy Hampton said at the community briefing. “Not only are we dealing with the situation with the Pine Gulch Fire, we are monitoring the Grizzly Creek Fire and the Williams Fork Fire for the impacts to wildlife and impacts to wildlife recreation. We are all residents and citizens here.”
Archery hunting season began on Tuesday.
“For folks out there, monitor the public land agencies and be aware of closures and respect those. Be aware of fire restrictions,” Hampton said. “If you are out there, make sure you know what the rules are and where you are going to be hunting.”
Rifle seasons won’t begin until mid-October for northwest Colorado.
“A lot of things can change between now and then,” Hampton added. “Could it better could get worse, who knows. What we want to do is make those decisions as close to the season as possible.”
GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE
Fire investigators officially ruled on Monday that the Grizzly Creek Fire was human-caused. The fire received nearly a quarter inch of rain on late Monday into early Tuesday as firefighters were able to capitalize on the overnight rainfall.
“A slow, steady rain does a really good job of penetrating the fuels,” fire behavior analyst Chris Moore with the fire said in a press release. “If you get one big dump of rain it runs off before it can be absorbed. This type of rain does a lot better for moistening those fuels.”
For the third day in a row, the fire showed no growth or increase in acreage. It remains at 32,464 acres and 75% containment as of Wednesday morning.
Firefighters have reportedly secured roughly 58 miles of the 78.5 miles of fire perimeter.
There have been several instances recently when firefighters have encountered mountain bikers in closure areas, creating a dangerous situation for both parties.Residents are asked to respect the closures in place.
“Out of respect for firefighter and public safety, we ask mountain bikers to adhere to the closures. The last thing we want is a surprise encounter between a mountain biker and a piece of heavy equipment,” Grizzly Creek Incident Cmdr. Norm McDonald said.