Rains douse Middle Elk fire
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
NEW CASTLE, Colorado – A half-inch of rain fell on the Middle Elk fire Monday night, leading fire officials to dismiss most of the 100 firefighters who have been battling the blaze since Friday.
“The combination of rain and cooler temperatures slowed fire behavior significantly,” said Patrick Thrasher, fire information officer for the White River National Forest.
“As a consequence, we are downsizing our response by releasing crews and aircraft,” Thrasher said Tuesday.
As crews came off their shifts Tuesday, they were released, leaving a crew of about a dozen to monitor the fire over the coming week.
Although the rain made a big difference, weather forecasts call for drier and warmer weather later in the week, and officials want to catch the fire early if it flares up.
The fire was reported at 4:20 p.m. on Sept. 20. It is about a quarter mile west of the Buford-to-New Castle Road, southwest of Hiner Springs and just north of the Garfield-Rio Blanco county line.
On Saturday, officials evacuated hunting camps in the area and the Meadow Lake Campground. Thrasher said the campground will be opened again by Friday.
The Buford-to-New Castle Road has been open to traffic since Monday, and is expected to remain open. The burned area is not in sight of the road, Thrasher noted.
Meanwhile, Forest Service officials continue to investigate the cause of the fire, which was sparked by an unattended or abandoned campfire.
“There’s a critical concern that this is a result of an unattended campfire,” Thrasher said. “We are very concerned about the number of these incidents we are responding to.”
He noted that the archery hunting season has ended, and rifle season starts Oct. 13, bringing hundreds of people into the backcountry to hunt and camp.
“Folks need to be careful with their fires. Complacency about this will get us in trouble one of these days,” Thrasher said.
As of Tuesday, the total fire size was more carefully pinpointed at 257 acres. That’s up from Monday’s estimate of 224 acres, largely through more accurate mapping, Thrasher said.
He said there were no injuries or mishaps involved with the firefighting effort. Two Juniper Valley crews from the Rifle Correctional Center and a helitack crew stationed at the Garfield County Regional Airport near Rifle were among the team fighting the blaze.
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Burning Mountain Park in New Castle will illuminate Saturday evening at the town’s Holiday Tree Lighting and Chili Cook-off between 5 and 7 p.m.