Moffat County wildfire balloons to 4,000 acres

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— Lightning without rain and plenty of dry ground to burn have resulted in scores of new small fires and one new large fire in Moffat County.
The Colorado State Patrol closed down U.S. 40 two miles east of Elk Springs from 3:47 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, diverting traffic back to Craig. Elk Springs is on U.S. 40, 55 miles southwest of Craig, just south of Dinosaur National Monument.
The highway was closed while firefighters battled flames from the Winter Valley fire, which was covering some 4,000 acres as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"It's growing very rapidly," said Diann Pipher, fire information officer at the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center.
The fire is spreading in a northeasterly direction, toward Maybell.
More than 200 firefighters from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, as well as crews from New Mexico and Nevada, are trying to contain the fires, although they have no estimated time of containment for the Winter Valley Fire, Pipher said.
At least 33 fires were started by dry lightning in northwest Colorado Monday night alone, and more are expected because of the more expected lightning, lack of rain and dry ground, Pipher said.
"Everything is already so dry, and it's very difficult to fight these fires because of steep terrain and a lack of fire-fighting resources," she said.
There are currently two air tankers and four helicopters on the scene, in addition to the hundreds of firefighters, including members of two Hot Shot crews.
The Yampa Valley fire crew is helping to contain the Scandard Fire, which is burning about 25 miles southwest of Meeker, and also is helping to control the smaller fires of 30, 40 and 50 acres around Moffat County.
Another fire just north of Dinosaur National Park burned 90 acres before it was contained Tuesday night.
Weather forecasts are calling for continued high temperatures and isolated thunderstorms throughout the day.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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