Smoke screen settles on Rifle |

Smoke screen settles on Rifle

Amanda Holt Miller
Western Garfield County Staff

RIFLE ” A haystack fire on Graham Mesa, northeast of Rifle, could continue to smolder for several days, said Rob Jones, a Rifle Fire Protection District firefighter.

Smoke from the fire has filled the skies around Rifle since the blaze started at about 6:45 Wednesday night.

The fire is believed to have been started by an 8-year-old boy playing with a lighter. He is not related to the people who own the land where the hay burned, Garfield County Undersheriff Tim Templon said.

“It appears to be accidental; a small child playing with a lighter,” he said.

Templon said the boy will not be charged with anything because he is too young.

The haystack contained about 173 one-ton bales. Only 29 could be saved, according to a press release written by Matthew Mollenkamp, the incident commander for Rifle Fire Protection District. The estimated loss of the hay is $12,000.

Rifle firefighters broke open the burning bales and spread them out in an irrigated field, where they will stay until they burn out. Jones said hay fires are nearly impossible to extinguish.

“They just sit there and smolder for days and days and days,” Jones said. “You can put all the water you want on it and it’ll keep burning. It’s grass and grass just doesn’t absorb water.”

Jones said the hay bales burn for such a long time because they contain enough oxygen to feed the fire.

Haystack fires are somewhat regular in agricultural communities, but Jones said they typically start on their own because the hay was rolled while it was still wet. The wet hay heats under pressure and starts a fire.

Jones said there hasn’t been a haystack fire in this area in the last few years.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke in this case. Firefighters have been checking on the burning bales, but don’t need to watch it carefully. It’s completely contained and no structures were ever threatened.

“But there is an awful lot of smoke,” Jones said.

Unfortunately, it’s not something that will go away anytime soon. “I heard of haystack fires smoldering for several weeks,” Jones said.

“We’ve had complaints from people up there east of the fire. That’s the direction the wind is blowing now. People have called and said their smoke alarms were going off. Unfortunately we can’t really do anything about that.”

Dan Travers, the operations manager for Disaster Restoration in Glenwood Springs, said people can prevent smoke damage in their homes by keeping doors and windows closed. When the wind is in their favor and the smoke is blowing away from the house, folks should open it up to air the house out.

If people in the area are using air conditioners or swamp coolers, they should shut them down to keep residue from sneaking into the system.

Time should clear out the odor.

“It’s just like a skunk,” Travers said. “You wake up at night and have that really strong smell. You air the house out the next day after the skunk is gone and you still smell it. The next day it will go away.”

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