Flames overtake Jolley Mesa | PostIndependent.com

Flames overtake Jolley Mesa

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

NEW CASTLE – A fast-moving wildfire burned probably 100 acres or more on Jolley Mesa west of New Castle Wednesday and prompted a multi-agency counterattack by land and air.”This is so bad, it’s not funny. I think I’ve lost about 150 acres so far,” said Brett Jolley, who owns the mesa top land with his brother, Kent.Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin, whose own home was threatened by the fire, placed the initial rough estimate at a slightly more conservative 100-125 acres as of about 9 p.m. He also thought that the fire was perhaps 50 percent contained. He said no structures had been damaged and he knew of no injuries from the blaze. Crews worked to protect several natural gas wells on the mesa, he said.

Jolley said a cabin he owns on top of the mesa did not appear to be threatened as of about 8 p.m.”It’s not as bad as it was, but it’s far from being over,” Grady Hazelton, a Jolley family friend who helped respond to the fire, said at about 7 p.m.The fire began near County Road 335 south of the Colorado River and sent up a plume of smoke that dominated the sky even in Glenwood Springs. Pushed by high winds and encouraged by tinder-dry conditions, the fire raced up a gully and onto the mesa, witnesses said.”It started out tiny, tiny and just exploded,” said Jackie Gray, who lives just across the river from where the fire started. Her son, Casey, 10, saw the fire around 4:30 p.m. and yelled to his father, Alvie, who was among those to call it in to authorities. He said the fire took off while he was on the phone with a dispatcher. “I’m just dumbfounded at how fast it went,” he said.

The fire forced the shutdown of County Road 335 between Silt and New Castle.A helicopter made numerous water drops on the blaze, obtaining water from the nearby river. A heavy air tanker made slurry drops, which McLin said proved crucial in the battle against the blaze.”It really made it to where we could get in there and have a chance,” he said.He said fire crews from Meeker, Rifle, the federal government and Glenwood Springs responded to the fire. A team of smokejumpers also answered the call, with their round, blue parachutes visible as they dropped in from the west.”It’s the joint effort that’s going to make things go the right way,” McLin said.

Business and individuals also pitched in, including EnCana Oil & Gas USA, which sent a water truck. Some of the threatened wells are EnCana’s, McLin said.Several motorists parked on the frontage road south of Interstate 70 to watch the air assault and see trees continue to ignite in flames.Jack McNeel, who is Jackie Gray’s father and lives next door to her, had been a little nervous about the possibility of the fire jumping the river and igniting haystacks by his house. He praised crews for making a stand against the fire at County Road 335.”They worked really hard to keep it from coming this way,” he said.He said owners of homes to the east on County Road 335 were lucky the fire went up the gully rather than in their direction.

Ironically, McLin said his own home was the closest to the fire, on County Road 335 and about a half mile away. But he wasn’t too concerned because the fire was blowing in a different direction.Fires are becoming commonplace around McLin’s home. Last July 4, someone throwing fireworks from a passing vehicle on Divide Creek Road near County Road 335 started a fire on land owned by McLin.Later that month, another wildfire burned on Jolley Mesa.McLin said it’s pure speculation at this point, but he wouldn’t be surprised if a discarded cigarette started Wednesday’s fire, given its origin near the road and the lack of recent lightning that might start a fire naturally.Gray is guessing the same thing, after seeing a car go by on the road just before the fire’s start.

Heidi Rice contributed to this report.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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