A plane drops retardant on the southern edge of the Alkali fire late Wednesday afternoon.

Photo by Lauren Blair

A plane drops retardant on the southern edge of the Alkali fire late Wednesday afternoon.

20,000 acres ignited by Alkali fire in Moffat County; no containment in sight

BLM reports three smaller fires in Northwest Colorado

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The Alkali Fire located in Moffat County has scorched roughly 20,000 acres since it ignited Wednesday, burning a homestead, a barn and killing three cattle, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Firefighters now are working to keep the fire — located north of Maybell near Moffat County Roads 19, 6, 7 and 99 — away from oil and gas wells in the area, along with pipelines, BLM Public Information Officer Lynn Barclay said.

The fire, which was reported at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, is not contained, and high winds, dry fuels and high temperatures are presenting a challenge to firefighters on scene, Barclay said.

“Between all the agencies involved, protection to life and property is the highest priority,” Barclay said.

Federal, state and county organizations are working to control the flames, and the fire now is called a Type 3 incident being handled under unified command, Barclay said.

The fire is burning on BLM and private land, moving across the property of four Moffat County families, including the Brannan, Nottingham, Raftopoulous and Ritchen ranches, Barclay said.

Ranchers are trying to move cattle. On Wednesday, the Brannan family told the Daily Press that they have 200 cattle on their ranch.

Brothers Ed and John Brannan own 6,000 acres where the fire is burning, and it’s not clear how much of their land has been affected.

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.

“Dry as it is and with the wind blowing, who knows where it will go,” Ed Brannan told the Daily Press on Wednesday.

“The biggest challenge for firefighters is shifting wind from thunder cells and dry fuels,” Incident Commander Todd Wheeler, with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement. “Safety to firefighters and citizens in the area is our top priority.”

As of Thursday morning, two 20-person fire crews were headed to the scene.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., expressed his concern about the growing fire.

“The Alkali Fire's rapid growth is concerning, and my thoughts go out to all those who have already been affected by this wildfire as well as the brave firefighters and smoke jumpers battling this blaze. I will work with the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies to ensure Moffat County has every resource it needs to protect Coloradans' homes and lives — as well as nearby natural gas facilities," Udall said in a statement.

Additionally, BLM also reported three other fires in Northwest Colorado, including the Isles fire in Moffat County near Colorado Highway 13 that 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 roughly 200 acres and is burning juniper brush and dry grass on steep BLM terrain, Barclay said.

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

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