Weather prompts red flag warning for western Colorado

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Area firefighters hoped to get a large Routt County wildfire under control late Tuesday before fire weather conditions worsened today, prompting the National Weather Service in Grand Junction to issue a red flag warning from noon to 9 p.m.

Tuesday’s wildfire was reported shortly after noon at the same time local officials were meeting to discuss wildland fire season conditions and concerns. The fire was not under control as of early Tuesday evening, and no structures had been damaged or were threatened, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said. He estimated the fire at Middle Creek Ranch along County Road 31 south of Steamboat Springs had burned 200 acres of grass and brush. Strong winds were helping the fire spread to the northeast along the side of steep, rocky terrain.

Wiggins said the wildfire started when ranch workers lost control of an agricultural burn intended to clean out ditches. Such wildfires have become common in recent weeks as dry conditions persist. There have now been at least 10 fires since March 15 that were caused by agricultural burns that got out of control. The Middle Creek Ranch fire could end up being the largest to date.

Wiggins urged people who are considering performing agricultural burns to use common sense, especially on days when fire weather exists.

“If it’s not an absolute necessity, I would caution anyone from doing any controlled burns,” Wiggins said.

Several times in recent weeks firefighters from throughout the county have been called to help with wildfires. Those duties could limit the help available for other emergencies.

“Resources are getting stretched to the max,” Wiggins said.

Tuesday’s fire along C.R. 31 was mostly burning on private land owned by the ranch, but Wiggins said it might have spread over the hill onto land owned by Twentymile Coal Co. Smoke from the fire could be seen from the company’s coal operations based about two miles northwest of the fire. It also could be seen from west Steamboat.

The wildfire was burning within the boundaries of the Oak Creek Fire Protection District, but firefighters from other local agencies were helping in addition to the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Wiggins estimated there were at least 20 firefighters working the fire Tuesday afternoon, and more were on the way.

Firefighters were expected to work into the night, and Wiggins said the county had brought in a bulldozer to dig a control line down from the rock wall to the county road in an effort to keep the fire from spreading.

“They’re going to keep working as hard as they can to get that knocked down before (today),” Wiggins said.

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