Fire near Buford Road grows to 224 acres |

Fire near Buford Road grows to 224 acres

Annie Uyehara Special to the Post IndependentA helicopter makes a bucket drop on the Middle Elk fire on Sunday, as seen from the Buford to New Castle Road. The fire spread to 224 acres Monday, and the area got very little rain from the storm that moved through the area Sunday night. About 100 firefighters are battling the blaze.

NEW CASTLE, Colorado – A wildfire still burning in the Flat Tops west of the Buford Road about 30 miles northwest of here was caused by a campfire left unattended late last week, according to White River National Forest officials.

The Middle Elk Fire grew from 213 acres late Sunday to about 224 acres Monday afternoon, said Bill Kight, incident spokesman for the Forest Service.

The small amount of rain received early Monday was not enough to put the fire out, he said.

“There was only one 100th of an inch of rain in the fire area overnight, and no rain during the day,” Kight said. “The fire is still quite active, though it did not grow significantly.”

The fire, which started late in the day on Sept. 20, was traced to a campfire that had been left unattended, Kight said.

“This is a reminder that the fire season is not over, and that people need to be careful in the woods,” he said. “We found more than six unattended campfires over the weekend, and that’s just unacceptable.”

The incident remains under investigation, Kight said. Anyone who may have seen someone leaving the area or noticed suspicious activity around the time the fire started is asked to contact the Forest Service.

Firefighters spent the weekend and Monday battling the wildfire, which was burning in rough terrain in thick conifer and aspen forest loaded with snags and downed trees.

The public was being asked to avoid the Hiner Spring area on Monday in order for firefighters and equipment to move safely. Temporary closures and roadblocks, including on the Buford Road, may be necessary over the next few days, Kight said.

As the fire grew late Saturday, campers at the Meadow Lake Campground southeast of the fire were evacuated, as were four hunting parties in primitive camps on side roads east of the Buford Road.

Buford Road was closed for a period of time on Sunday below the fire. Deputies from the Garfield and Rio Blanco sheriff’s departments were manning roadblocks on either side of the fire.

Several side roads east of the main road, as well as the Meadow Lake Campground, remained closed on Monday.

A team of 100 people initially attacked the fire, including two Juniper Valley hand crews, the Cheyenne River Fire Crew and three engines, as well as helitack crews based at Rifle and Mesa Verde with one medium helicopter.

The combination of downed timber, persistent drought and rocky, steep slopes in the drainages have made for dangerous firefighting conditions, Kight said.

Additional resources were requested to help fight the fire on Monday, but with so many fires burning around the country, those resources have been limited, Kight said.

More moisture would be a big help, he said.

“It will take a season-ending snow event or an extended period of heavy rains to stop this fire,” Kight said.

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