Grand Junction fire causes smoky haze in Eagle County
Ryan Summerlin June 30, 2012
EAGLE COUNTY – Eagle and Summit County residents woke up Friday morning to a haze of diluted smoke and the smell of a wildfire, this time coming from the estimated 12,000-acre Pine Ridge fire burning outside of De Beque Canyon in Mesa County.
The wind-whipped blaze burned right up to the edge of Interstate 70 Thursday night, causing a temporary full closure. One lane in each direction was open Friday morning, but further intermittent closures were likely due to firefighting activity and smoke in the area, officials warned.
Fifty evacuation orders near De Beque have been issued, according to Grand Junction news sources.
The fire was reported 5 percent contained Friday, but is active and growing 10 miles northeast of Grand Junction.
Though few structures are in range of the fire, there are approximately 35 oil and gas wells in the area that operators were taking steps to protect Friday.
The fire is burning through rugged terrain dominated by very dry sagebrush, and extreme fire behavior and rapid growth of the fire are expected.
Firefighters will be working today to keep the fire on the west side of I-70 and away from developed areas, according to official incident reports.
The haze and smoke were more noticeable on Friday because of the ignition of wildfires upwind, including the Pine Ridge fire and a smaller blaze near Eagle that broke out Thursday, according to Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller.
The Colorado Department of Public Health does not deem smoke to be a serious health concern until it reaches a density that obscures visibility at a 5-mile range.
Eagle and Summit counties had not reached that point as of Friday afternoon.
“We don’t have any real-time data collection for particulate matter,” said Summit County environmental health manager Dan Hendershott. “That’s why this visual guidance is sometimes the best.”
Unhealthy levels of smoke in the air would, for example, block out Bald or Red mountains from Breckenridge or Buffalo Peak from Dillon, Hendershott said.
At those levels, the smoke generally becomes a problem for children and the elderly or individuals with underlying medical problems such as heart disease or lung disease, but even healthy individuals would be advised to limit outdoor activity.
If the smoke haze reduced visibility to 5 miles, local officials would recommend staying indoors with the air condition running, drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding lighting candles or smoking in the house to protect air quality.
The Denver Post contributed to this story.