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Northwest CO fires consume more than 18,000 acres

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By Jen Hill
jen@theheraldtimes.com
Reprinted with permission from the Rio Blanco Herald Times, www.theheraldtimes.com 

The Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Land Management and Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Black  held an informational community meeting in Rangely Tuesday, June 13,  for updates on the Dead Dog and Hunter fires.

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The Hunter Fire, located in the Piceance Creek area about 20 miles southwest of Meeker, had burned 992 acres and was 70 percent contained. The fire, which started June 10, is believed to have been caused by lightning and is burning in pinyon, juniper, grass and brush. Despite continued windy conditions, Tuesday brought quick progress with the Hunter fire, as the blaze went from only 30 percent to 70 percent contained with no growth. Wednesday, crews will continue to strengthen containment lines and, as conditions allow, will be relocated to the Dead Dog fire.

The Dead Dog Fire, which started June 11, is located approximately 10 miles north of Rangely and has consumed 17,731 acres. At press time it was only 10 percent contained. The fire stretches from Deserado to Blue Mountain and from just north of Rangely to Highway 40, causing a temporary closure of Highway 40 on Monday. According to Sheriff Anthony Mazzola, the Dead Dog fire was human-caused and is currently under investigation.

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Rangely Fire were the first responders on the scene, followed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Black took control of operations Tuesday.

County roads 65 (Deserado), 1 and 96 are closed, according to an update Wednesday morning from the Sheriff’s Office. Employees of the Deserado underground coal mine are being allowed through the road block. While the Deserado Mine did shut down temporarily on Tuesday, both the mine and rail line — which transports Deserado coal 35 miles to the Bonanza power plant—were expected to resume full operations by Tuesday night. As of Tuesday the fire had reached within a quarter of a mile of the railroad line. Team Black said that the rail line is considered a security focus moving forward.

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Moon Lake Electric Association reported that 54 power poles have been impacted, however there has not been any interruption in power services. Currently the poles are the only damaged structures.

Ty Webb with Team Black described the Dead Dog scene as a “chaotic fire” and said the team was working to establish a secure anchor point along County Road 1. According to Team Black the 10 percent of containment is the oil patch, an area they made a priority. The crew, which is close to 300 strong, plan to focus more on the north end near Highway 40 in the coming days.

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Helicopters and air tankers are being utilized to try and contain the blaze. The planes are currently refueling and flying out of the Grand Junction Airport.

It is not expected that the fire will impact the Chevron Turn Around project, which has brought an additional 500 temporary workers to Rangely.

According to Lisa Hatch, coordinator for the upcoming Dinosaur Spectacular Hang Gliding Event, which is supposed to begin this weekend, the fire will likely impact the event. Dinosaur, Colo., is 18 miles northwest of Rangely on Highway 40. If there is any air traffic in the area, it becomes a no fly zone for the gliders. Additionally, there are concerns about the area being too hot for potential landings. If the fire is still burning by the weekend it is likely the gliders will be forced to fly out of Steamboat instead.

It’s estimated that it has been a very long time since the area of the Dead Dog Fire had burned. According to a Deserado Mine employee, a recent study of the area stated that some of the pinyon and junipers in the area are up to 100 years old.

For updates on the fire residents are encouraged to call 970-549-0723 or visit inciweb.nwcg.gov.

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