Charred land near Moffat County Road 44 left behind by the Alkali Fire Wednesday and Thursday.

Photo by Lauren Blair

Charred land near Moffat County Road 44 left behind by the Alkali Fire Wednesday and Thursday.

Alkali Fire 50 percent contained after burning nearly 20,700 acres

Several lighting-caused fires keeping firefighters on their toes

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The Alkali Fire in Moffat County now is 50 percent contained after burning about 20,700 acres 14 miles northeast of Maybell, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The fire, which was reported at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, burned a homestead cabin and a barn, ignited a propane tank and killed three cattle, according to BLM Public Information Officer Lynn Barclay.

Cloud cover and higher humidity kept fire activity low Thursday, making it easier for authorities to tackle the flames. Most of the acreage burned Wednesday night.

“The weather wasn’t expected. That cloud cover helped us a lot,” Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said. “It really gave us a break and held long enough that the afternoon winds didn’t hurt that much.”

Federal, state and county organizations worked to control the flames Thursday, and the fire was called a Type 3 incident being handled under unified command, Barclay said.

Crews worked Thursday to secure the perimeter of the fire, putting out hotspots and assessing overall containment. About 70 firefighters and six fire engines worked to contain the fire, according to the BLM.

Assigned to the fire Thursday were two 20-person Colorado State Wildfire Crews, hand crews from the Department of Corrections, three Moffat County engines, two BLM engines, a Fish & Wildlife engine, one state engine from the Colorado Department of Fire Control, two Moffat County water tenders and two Moffat County road maintainers, according to Moffat County Sgt. Todd Wheeler.

A single-engine air tanker worked Wednesday to put out the flames, but was grounded Thursday due to erratic winds.

The fire began on BLM land, according to Jantz. Three people were evacuated from the path of the fire Wednesday afternoon. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but has been determined to be human-caused, possibly by machinery. The fire appears to be accidental.

Most of the land burned was north of Moffat County Roads 6 and 8 between Moffat County Roads 19 on the west and 7 on the east. High winds, dry fuels and high temperatures caused the fire to spread quickly Wednesday afternoon, Barclay said.

According to Wheeler, the fire ran at a speed of 15 mph Wednesday. It ultimately spanned 15 miles from its point of origin to its furthest reach near the intersection of Moffat County Roads 44 and 7.

Moffat County and BLM crews worked Wednesday to control the fire.

“If it was not for their quick response last night, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Jantz said Thursday.

The fire burned primarily on private land, including property belonging to the Brannan, Nottingham, Raftopoulous, Ritchen and Ellis families. A small amount of Bureau of Land Management lands were affected.

Landowners were able to move most of their cattle out of harm’s way by Thursday morning, with the exception of the three killed by the fire. Many cattle took refuge within green islands — unburned sections inside of the burn area — where they were able to safely remain.

John Brannan and two of his workers were rolling a wire fence when they were told to evacuate the area Wednesday. Ed Brannan was in Maybell when he first saw smoke to the north, and he rushed back to discover that his land was on fire.

Crews were released Thursday night, with a smaller crew set to return Friday morning, and 100 percent containment is expected as early as Friday afternoon, according to Jantz.

Additionally, BLM also reported three other fires in Northwest Colorado on Thursday morning, including the Isles Fire in Moffat County near Colorado Highway 13, which was contained at 1 acre at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

The Gator and Carl’s Hole Fires are burning in the Piceance Basin in Rio Blanco County.

The Carl’s Hole fire is about 200 acres and is burning juniper brush and dry grass on steep BLM terrain, Barclay said.

The Gator fire is about one-third of an acre.

Approximately 30 firefighters made good progress containing the 276-acre Carl’s Hole Fire on BLM land about 30 miles west of Meeker, although a specific containment figure was not available. The fire was started Tuesday night by lightning. No structures are immediately threatened.

Since Wednesday afternoon, resources from the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit and its cooperators have responded to at least 17 other fires. Three single-engine air tankers and two helicopters have helped keep the initial attack fires small, according to BLM.

Reach Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@craigdailypress.com.

Reach Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or nriley@craigdailypress.com.

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