Moffat County wildfire quickly consumes 3,500 acres
As of 6:20 p.m. Thursday, a wildfire that was first reported about noon south of Elk Springs in western Moffat County had ripped through more 3,500 acres of grass and sagebrush, threatening residences in Deerlodge Park and surrounding areas.
Dubbed the Winter Valley Fire, U.S. Highway 40 remained closed Thursday evening as the fire blew across the highway toward the northeast, threatening to reach Colorado Highway 318.
Residents in the Deerlodge area were evacuated. A total of 25-30 residences were threatened by the fire as it whipped through the valley in which the Yampa River meets the Little Snake River, according to Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Courtney Whiteman.
Oil and gas structures, a communications tower and a Federal Aviation Administration tower were also threatened, with the potential for power outages if firefighters are required to cut power lines, Whiteman said.
The fire was headed north and east toward Deerlodge Park.
“It’s growing due to high winds, and it has crossed U.S. Highway 40,” said Moffat County Undersheriff Charlene Abdella. “There are mandatory evacuations in the area.”
The blaze broke out about noon a mile and half south of Elk Springs, Whiteman said, and is growing rapidly due to wind gusts near 50 miles per hour.
Scanner reports indicate flames were visible from Deerlodge Park, where residents and hunters were being evacuated.
A type 3 incident management team has been called in to fight the blaze, and hotshot crews and large tankers have been ordered in to battle the fast-moving flames. The fire was burning on BLM and private lands in greater sage-grouse habitat, Whiteman said.
The wind-driven brush fire has closed U.S. Highway 40 in both directions from Maybell west to Elk Springs, according to Colorado State Patrol Captain Doug Conrad.
After being initially reported at about 10-15 acres about noon Thursday, the fire doubled in size within about 20 minutes.
Heavy smoke was causing low visibility on the highway, and officials closed the road at 2:19 p.m. as the fire quickly approached due to high winds, Conrad said.
As of about 3 p.m., officials were working to set up a detour to re-route westbound traffic along Moffat County Road 57, or Price Creek Road, and eastbound traffic along Colorado 64 near Dinosaur and Blue Mountain, according to scanner traffic.
The BLM was leading efforts to fight the fire, with support from Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation and Moffat County Road & Bridge. At press time, it is not known when the highway would re-open.
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