Update: Winter Valley Fire burns 3,500 acres, Deerlodge residents evacuated in western Moffat County | CraigDailyPress.com

Update: Winter Valley Fire burns 3,500 acres, Deerlodge residents evacuated in western Moffat County

U.S. Highway 40 closed between Maybell, Elk Springs

As of 6:20 p.m. Thursday, a wildfire that was first reported around noon south of Elk Springs in western Moffat County had ripped through more 3,500 acres of grass and sagebrush, threatening residences in Deerlodge Park and surrounding areas.

U.S. Highway 40 remained closed Thursday evening as the blaze, dubbed the Winter Valley Fire, blew across the highway toward the northeast, threatening to reach Colorado Highway 318.

Residents, hunters and campers in the Deerlodge area were evacuated by late afternoon. A total of 25 to 30 residences were threatened by the fire as it whipped through the valley in which the Yampa River meets the Little Snake River, according to Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Courtney Whiteman.

Oil and gas structures, a communications tower and a Federal Aviation Administration tower were also threatened, with the potential for power outages if firefighters are forced to cut power lines, Whiteman said.

"It's growing due to high winds, and it has crossed U.S. Highway 40," said Moffat County Undersheriff Charlene Abdella. "There are mandatory evacuations in the area."

The blaze broke out about noon a mile and half south of Elk Springs, Whiteman said, and grew rapidly due to wind gusts near 50 miles per hour.

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A type 3 incident management team was called in to fight the blaze, and hotshot crews and large tankers were ordered in to battle the fast-moving flames. The fire was burning on BLM and private lands in greater sage grouse habitat, Whiteman said.

The fire closed U.S. Highway 40 in both directions shortly after 2 p.m. from Maybell to Elk Springs, according to Colorado State Patrol Captain Doug Conrad. Officials diverted traffic along Moffat County Road 57, or Price Creek Road, and Colo. Highway 64 near Dinosaur and Blue Mountain. Heavy smoke caused low visibility on the highway.

After being initially reported at about 10 to 15 acres about noon Thursday, the fire doubled in size within about 20 minutes and grew exponentially throughout the afternoon.

The BLM was leading efforts to fight the fire, with support from Moffat County Sheriff's Office, State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation and Moffat County Road & Bridge. At press time, it is not known when the highway would re-open.

The Craig Press will continue to update this story as new information becomes available.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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