The Pine Gulch Fire, a wildfire situated less than 20 miles north of Grand Junction, continues to burn as firefighters from around the state join with regional crews to battle the blaze. In all, nearly 800 personnel are involved in fighting the ever-growing fire. Hot, dry conditions with single-digit humidity and gusting winds have caused the fire to rapidly expand.

The lightning-caused fire began on July 31, when it blackened 249 acres. It quickly enlarged until, on Aug. 14, it encompassed more than 73,000 acres with incident commanders reporting that the blaze was only 7% contained. The dynamic situation changes hourly.

Crews battling the blaze are organized into working divisions which have surrounded the fire at all points of the compass. A primary containment strategy is to set intentional burns in the path of the fire and bulldoze breaks in order to deprive the advancing blaze of fuel. Emphasis is also placed on protecting life and property and keeping roads open to facilitate the movements of fire equipment and evacuations of endangered residents as needed.

A temporary flight restriction is in place over the Pine Gulch Fire, including a “No Drone Zone.” Drones interfere with firefighting aircraft such that, when a drone is spotted in the area, bucket-bearing helicopters and other aircraft cannot operate. This strict drone restriction is summarized by firefighters in succinct terms when they declare: “If you fly, we can’t.”

Rural roads have been closed and evacuation orders have been issued for residents in the path of the fire. Air quality alerts are in effect in the immediate area as well as multiple locations far from the fire itself. Current information regarding road closures, evacuations and air quality can be obtained by visiting the Incident Information System website: inciweb.nwcg.gov

An article outlining the impact on Delta County air quality appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of the DCI. For up-to-date information, readers can view an active Facebook page under “Pine Gulch Fire.” The online page provides daily video briefings by the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team. facebook.com/PineGulchFireCO

The Pine Gulch fire is situated in rugged topography along the Mesa County-Garfield County line and primarily in Garfield where officials have issued evacuation orders. Since July, Colorado has experienced nine major wildfires. As of Aug. 14, three were still active: Pine Gulch, the Grizzly Creek fire near Glenwood Springs, and the Cameron Peak fire north of the Poudre River Canyon.

Regionally, the Four-Corners area has had a flammable summer with 38 multi-acre blazes in July and so far in August. Most of these fires are now contained. Arizona leads the pack with 18 reported July-August fires, followed by Colorado with nine, New Mexico with eight, and Utah with three.

So far, most fires have been sparked by lightning, but moderate-to-strict fire restrictions are in force throughout the Mountain West. Local residents and especially campers and hikers need to be aware of, and adhere to, fire restrictions.

As of the morning of Aug. 17, the fire had grown to 87,209 acres.

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