Fire forces evacuations near Rifle |

Fire forces evacuations near Rifle

G. Sean Kelly
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

RULISON ” Fire crews were in structure-protection mode while battling a wildfire between Rulison and Rifle that had already burned three structures by Friday evening.

According to Rifle Fire Department spokesman Lee Martens, one of the structures was a home. He was unable to confirm the type of the other two structures.

Martens estimates that 100 to 150 homes are at risk and said the Rulison, Spruce Creek and Red Apple areas have been evacuated. No evacuation site or other information was available at press time.

“There isn’t a good place for (the fire) to go,” Martens said, referring to the number of homes surrounding the fire. “It’s a bad place for a fire.”

The fire was reported mid-afternoon Friday burning between County Roads 309 and 301 and was generally moving east Friday night.

“It seems to be a semifast-moving fire that’s fingering out,” Martens said.

More than 200 firefighters were on the fire line, including two Hot Shot teams and firefighters from fire departments from Parachute to Basalt to Gypsum providing aid. A heavy air tanker, which is capable of dropping as many as 2,500 gallons of fire retardant, and three single-engine air tankers, along with two helicopters were battling the flames, said Lee Ann Loupe, spokeswoman for the federal Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management.

Judging from the smoke, the fire was “laying down for the night” at about 9 p.m., but ground crews would remain out for structure protection, Martens said.

“They will definitely be on station all night long to protect stuff,” he said.

There are also a number of gas wells in the area, but Martens said “they are going to protect the structures before the gas wells.” He also pointed that out that it’s standard procedure for the crews manning the wells to turn them off prior to evacuating the well pads.

The winds cooperated somewhat in fighting the blaze Friday afternoon, according to Martens, with no particularly large gusts into the evening.

“We are lucky that the winds have not come up ” lucky that we don’t have any heavy winds,” he said. “It’s blowing it enough for the winds to cause us some trouble, but we’re lucky there’s no heavy winds blowing it.”

Martens didn’t have an estimate on the size of the fire, but Rifle Fire Department Operations Chief Kevin Costanz guessed late Friday afternoon that it was about 100 acres.

Lightning that moved through the area Thursday night is among the possible causes of the fire, according to Costanzo.

The fire is close to the 65-acre Gray Barn Fire that started June 26 and the Red Apple Fire that burned 800 acres in 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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