Lightning starts several small fires in Garfield County: three contained, one monitored | VailDaily.com
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Lightning starts several small fires in Garfield County: three contained, one monitored

Charlie Wertheim, Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Smoke flows from the trees after a lightning strike ignited a fire on the hillside above Highway 6 near Bruce Road just east of New Castle on Monday morning. Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Lightning strikes Sunday evening and Monday morning started several small fires in the area.

Colorado River Fire Rescue worked on four fires in the New Castle area on Monday.

“This morning we had a lightning storm come through. … We wound up with four fires at the same time all within maybe a three-square-mile area,” CRFR fire chief Randy Callahan said. 

By Monday afternoon CRFR had made enough progress on those fires to be called elsewhere.

“Three are contained one is monitored,” Callahan said. “Now we’re headed up to Rio Blanco County assisting BLM on a fire. They just called us for help.”

David Boyd, Public Affairs Officer for the White River National Forest, also mentioned Rio Blanco County fires.

“There are some bigger fires on the Piceance Basin that heavy air tankers are working from the air base in Grand Junction,” Boyd said in an email.

As of 5 p.m. Monday crews were working on two fires less than 1/4-acre in size on the White River National Forest, Boyd said.

Four BLM Boise smokejumpers are fighting the Red Stone Fire in Braderich Creek northwest of Redstone, and a four-person WRNF crew from Rifle is fighting the Bison Lake Fire 15 miles north of Glenwood Springs at Bison Lake near Heart Lake in the Flat Tops, Boyd said.

The Boise Smokejumpers are currently based in Grand Junction, Boyd said.

Lightning strike fires are typical for this time of year.

“As of now nothing out of the ordinary,” Boyd said. “These are small fires that we spend most of the summer on.”

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t potential for greater danger.

Regarding the New Castle fires, Callahan said, “They were all difficult to access, required hiking in or progressive hose lays, and they all had potential to get up and run. Our challenge with our staffing levels is we need to stop these before they get big.”

Boyd said firefighters took to the air Monday scouting for more fires as the temperature heated up. 

“[Firefighters] are going to fly to see what other ones they can find,” he said midday Monday.

As it turned out, there were a couple of other smoke reports that didn’t turn into anything, he said.

Having fires pop up a day or two after a lightning storm is not unusual.

“It’s pretty typical the next day after you’ve had some lightning that’s when [fires] start popping up. Conditions are just better for putting up some smoke. … A lightning strike can hold over for days before it starts going,” Boyd said.

Sunday evening also saw a small fire start — and quickly brought under control — on Three Mile Road in Glenwood Springs.

CRFR gave the New Castle fires names. The Lakota Fire, 240 Fire and Cliff Fire were north of town, while the 335 Fire was south of town.

Callahan said assigning names is not caused by fire size or severity, it just helps crews know where they’re going.

“It’s an identifier for the fire so you know where to go to,” he said.

Interagency BLM engine and air support, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, and Glenwood Springs Fire assisted CRFR with the New Castle fires.

A gusty storm was in the area between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday. National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Aleksa said the Rifle/Garfield County Airport reported a peak gust of 58 mph at 6:12 p.m. The Eagle Vail Airport reported a peak gust of 60 mph at 7 p.m., so Aleksa estimated that Glenwood Springs would have seen similar-strength winds between the times of those two reports.

Continuing high temperatures with little rain in the forecast and Stage 1 fire restrictions in place signal a continuing need for caution with fire.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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