Crews douse season's first big blaze in Rio Blanco

Fire crews, including the Craig Interagency Hot Shots, contained Northwest Colorado's first big blaze of the wildfire season over the weekend.

The fire was reported Friday about noon on private land south of Buford in Rio Blanco County.

It started from a brush pile burn and scorched 46 acres, including five acres of White River National Forest land before fire crews got the blaze under control Saturday.

"This was the first big fire of the year," said Patricia McGuire, a spokeswoman for the interagency response team. "This is the only one so far that's taken more than a couple of hours to deal with or involved an overnight stay.

However, it's going to start popping from now on."

At the height of the blaze, three 20-man crews, two helicopters and six engines battled the fire in the vicinity of the Lower South Fork River basin.

However, the helicopters only performed "minimal bucket work" Saturday, said Kristi Ponozzo, public affairs specialist for the White River National Forest. The blaze was 80 percent contained by Saturday evening and 100 percent contained by Sunday.

The Craig Interagency Hot Shots, another Hot Shot crew from Carson City, Nev., and inmates from the Rifle Correctional Institute worked to build hand lines around the northern perimeter of the fire, Ponozzo said.

"We're going to call it controlled by the end of shift tomorrow," McGuire said Sunday.

Crews were fortunate to be working with calm winds, she added. "The favorable weather conditions really helped." One structure was evacuated.

No injuries were reported.

McGuire warned Northwest Colorado residents to be vigilant about burning outdoors.

"We're still way below normal for rainfall and moisture for the year," she said.

"Don't be lulled into a false sense of security just because everything looks nice and green."

Crews will be conducting mop-up today. Mop-up involves crews putting out burning and smoldering material inside containment lines.

Extensive mop-up, with water and hand tools, will be required because of the large amount of dead and downed material inside the perimeter, said a press release from the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management.

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