About 75 firefighters are battling a 500-acre blaze 15 miles north of Rifle that burned up to the top of the Grand Hogback Wednesday afternoon.
The fire was reported at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, and started along the east side of Colorado Highway 13, according to David Boyd, fire information officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Fanned by a strong wind out of the west, the fire had spread across 500 acres by nightfall Wednesday, and burned within about 300 yards of a ranch, Boyd said.
It spread east into stands of pinon and juniper and onto the rugged Grand Hogback formation, topping out on the ridgeline but spreading no farther to the east.
"It has only burned to the top of ridge," Boyd said. "Fire wants to burn uphill, and the aircraft has held it there. Our priority today is to keep it from burning down onto the east side of the Hogback."
It sent up a column of smoke visible over a wide area, and ash was seen falling as far east as Glenwood Springs on Wednesday afternoon.
"We expect fire activity to increase throughout the day today, so we will likely see smoke again this afternoon," Boyd said Thursday morning.
The fire poses no immediate threat to structures, but is within a few miles of homes scattered in the west Rifle Creek area, communications equipment about two miles to the north, and the Rifle Gap Reservoir nine miles to the east. No evacuations have been called, Boyd said.
Firefighters from the new Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority in Rifle, Silt and New Castle were the first to respond to the blaze. Incident command is now in the hands of Ross Wilmore of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, and federal firefighters and aircraft responded Wednesday and continue to fight the fire today.
On the scene now are a heavy helicopter, two single-engine air tankers and an air attack plane, which are supporting ground crew firefighters.
Additional aircraft have been ordered and are expected to arrive today, Boyd said.
The fire is believed to be human-caused, and is under investigation, Boyd said.
It comes two weeks after a wildfire erupted on the Flat Tops north of New Castle, sparked by an unattended or abandoned campfire. The Middle Elk fire burned 257 acres of forest west of the Buford to New Castle Road, but was largely doused after four days by an overnight rain.
"It's October, but conditions are still dry enough that on the right day, we can get a pretty big fire going," Boyd said. The National Weather Service had issued a Red Flag warning for 1-7 p.m. Wednesday, with winds hitting about the time the fire got going.
Boyd said the area avoided a serious wildfire all summer because the public took fire safety precautions seriously.
While there have been some rains in recent weeks, conditions still remain very dry, he said, and a warm, dry and windy day still offers prime conditions for a rapidly spreading wildfire.
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