Wildfire erupts near Dotsero
A wildfire consumed an estimated 510 acres of public land near Dotsero Friday. The fire, which hadn’t been contained by 6 p.m., was burning in patches at the top of the hill, also known as the “Old Volcano Site,” a mile north of Interstate 70 at mile marker 136.
The fire, a type III – type I being the most dangerous – is the worst Eagle County has seen in the past years, said Tom Kelly, district manager of the Western Eagle County Ambulance District and operating staging officer for the operation. Another fire burned about the same time in Garfield County near the Flattops.
“Right now nobody is in danger,” said Barry Smith, Eagle County emergency
manager. “There’s a potential that can change.”
The closest houses to the Crater fire – as local fire officials are calling -were at a mobile home park in Dotsero where some 60 people live, Kelly said.
“But even if the wind, which kept the fire moving to the east, shifted there isn’t enough fuel (vegetation) on that side of the hill to let it go down to I-70,” Smith said.
Instead, fueled by wind gusts of 10 to 20 mph, the fire kept moving east toward Gypsum, Smith said.
The 911 call came in at 2:30 p.m. as two men hunting for diamonds at an old diamond mine pit turned around and saw a plume of smoke, Kelly said.
About 40 firefighters – from all local fire stations, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service – worked to contain the fire well in to Friday evening.
“I’m not concerned with what is in front of the fire; there are no homes in the path of where the fire is going,” said Eric Rebitzke of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Management Unit. “My main concern is to get the heel of the fire anchored (stabilized) to create a safe point. From there we will flank both directions.”
By the time he arrived at the scene, a half-hour after the 911 call came in at 2:30 p.m., Rebitzke said more than 100 acres of pinon, juniper and Douglas fir were already burning.
“The suspected cause is human,” Rebitzke said. “We won’t know exactly until we conduct an investigation.”
Two motorcyclists were being questioned, said fire spokesman Whitney Hopkins said.
While firefighters worked on the hill trying to contain the perimeter of the fire, a helicopter of the U.S. Forest Service shuttled a bucket containing 500 gallons of water from the Colorado River to the fire site. A slurry bomber from Grand Junction also threw chemical retardant on the fire.
From a dozen miles away, the plume of smoke towered over Dotsero and like a blanket, expanding over Gypsum and Eagle, even Avon and Vail. Dark gray smoke shot up like a chimney from the top of the hill. Smoke could be smelled as far as Vail before sunset.
At the wildfire site, the fire burned in patches, at moments torching trees with 30-foot high flames.
“At this point, we’re running attack operations, flanking the fire, so far, successfully,” Rebitzke said. “It’s burning into lighter fuels, which will enhance with suppression efforts. At this point it hasn’t got out of control but it has burned over a communication site.”
Covered by red fire retardant, Forest Service firefighter Ian Kerr threw a chain saw over his shoulder and led a group of seven firefighters armed with pickaxes and shovels to the perimeter of the fire.
“We’re going to brush up the line,” he said.
Smith said working on the perimeter of the fire is a priority.
“You don’t put out a fire like this; you control it,” he said. “Once it is contained, you let it burn out.”
Gusty winds in the area complicated the work, shifted constantly.
Eagle reported gusts of 35 mph by 3 p.m., said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“It’s been a really dry pattern in the past weeks,” Ramey said. “It has been a couple of weeks since it last rained. Also, the high temperatures we’ve had in the afternoons have dried the vegetation. We’ve had low humidity, with a maximum of 40 percent in the mornings.”
Ramey didn’t forecast any thunderstorms in the area through the weekend.
Before sunset Friday, Smith said he expected winds to shift back toward the west.
“That will help contain the fire,” he said before picking up his cell phone and planning where to set up a command post.
It would be either Gypsum Town Hall or Eagle Valley High School where firefighters would be taking showers.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.