Coal Seam Fire continues to send up smoke signals
More than two months after the outbreak of the Coal Seam Fire, the wildfire continues to send out almost daily reminders that it’s not out yet.
Fire dispatchers are receiving constant reports from an ever-vigilant public about smoke sightings from the 12,200-acre Glenwood-area fire, and from the Spring Creek Fire north of New Castle, which started after Coal Seam and grew to an even larger 13,500 acres.
“We just continue to get reports about them, and we just go over and look and say, `Yeah, it’s still within the control lines,'” said Kevin Conran, a dispatcher at the Grand Junction Air Center, which provides air support to Western Slope firefighters.
“We just get reports on ’em every day,” he added.
The smoke sightings generally involve unburnt fuels within the containment area. Because the fires are not considered a threat to spread, firefighting officials generally just monitor the situation as smoke sightings are reported.
“We usually send an airplane up to look at them,” said Conran.
Many of the Coal Seam Fire calls involve the upper end of Mitchell Creek, on the northern flank of the fire in the Flat Tops, away from residential areas.
But after the extreme damage done by Coal Seam, pilots and people on the ground have been vigilant about reporting smoke activity to authorities.
Coal Seam was started by an underground coal fire in South Canyon June 8, and was driven by high winds to Red Mountain, and also across the Colorado River and Interstate 70. It roared up the Mitchell Creek drainage, and destroyed 29 homes.
The Spring Creek Fire, which began June 22, never claimed any structures. It eventually was fully contained, while a small percentage of the Coal Seam’s northeast end was never contained due to rugged terrain and the minimal threat posed.
All the smoke reports on both fires continue to be within their perimeters, said Conran.
Both fires are expected to continue to burn until winter snows arrive.
Despite the innocuous nature of the smoke sightings being seen, Conran doesn’t consider the calls from the public a nuisance.
He said it’s important to hear about possible flare-ups, given the extremely high fire conditions that continue to exist.
“Until we get some kind of change in weather, we need to take all smoke reports seriously and at least investigate them and see what they are,” he said.
The reports can be made by calling 911. Conran said pilots usually report sightings by calling the Federal Aviation Administration, which in turn alerts firefighting dispatchers.
Conran said he has been assigned as a dispatcher in Grand Junction for the last week, and Wednesday was the first day since he arrived that no new fires had been reported. Before that, anywhere from one to a half-dozen reports a day were coming in of flareups from lightning strikes that hit a week ago.
“There’s still a potential for sleepers from that lightning,” he said.
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