Air tankers help contain 160-acre Dinosaur wildland fire
Multiple firefighting agencies from across the region rushed to Moffat County Wednesday, Aug. 21 and contained one of the largest wildland fires in Northwest Colorado this year.
According to a Wednesday night news release from the National Park Service, a visitor reported a wildfire at approximately 2:20 p.m. north of U.S. Highway 40 right next to the Dinosaur National Monument’s Canyon Visitor Center and headquarters.
In an interview Thursday, Artesia Fire Department Chief Troy Zufelt said he and other assets from the National Park Service were first on the scene to start fighting the fire.
“We had 15, 18 mile-an-hour winds blowing west to east and there was no way to contain those 15-foot flames,” Zufelt said. “We did the best we could with the resources we had.”
It wasn’t long before the winds jumped the blaze across the highway as the fire began traveling east.
By Wednesday evening, the fire was at an estimated 160 acres on both sides of Highway 40 and affecting power lines in the area, according to an NPS news release.
Once it became clear they needed some serious help, Zufelt said his colleagues with the park service started calling in some heavy hitters — multiple air tankers with flame retardant.
Interpretive Dinosaur National Monument Park Ranger Amanda Wilson said Thursday that nearly a dozen aircraft attacked the fire.
“There were a lot of planes used,” Wilson said. “There was one air attack, a twin engine plane, one lead plane, one type one air tanker, and six single engine air tankers. They did nine total drops and estimated around 8,000 gallons of retardant.”
In a subsequent Thursday release, the park service said they expected the 163-acre blaze to be 100% contained by 8 p.m. Thursday.
While fire officials are still investigating and haven’t determined the official cause of the fire, Zufelt said it was likely started by an 18-wheeler that suffered a flat tire as it came into Dinosaur, sparking multiple spot fires along Highway 40.
“I’m glad he started it where he did instead of in town,” Zufelt said. “It’s probably not even three-quarters a mile from the city limits.”
For at least the next 48 hours, local, state, and federal fire officials will continue to investigate the blaze.
“They’re going to bring an investigator from the park service out,” Zufelt said.
Dinosaur Mayor L.D. “Smitty” Smith confirmed there were no injuries reported as a result of the fire.
“No injuries at all, just a bunch of people doing a heck of a job,” Smith said. “I wish I could name all of them.”
Park Ranger Wilson said the air assets were part of an inter-agency firefighting team along with ground assets from Bureau of Land Management, Artesia Volunteer Fire Department, Jensen, Utah Volunteer Fire Department, Rangely Volunteer Fire Department, Naples, Utah Fire Department, Moffat County Fire/Rescue and Sheriff Office, and the National Park Service.
Zufelt warned residents to be careful as many portions of Northwestern Colorado have substantially dried into the perfect wildfire fuel.
“It’s super dry. There’s no rain in sight,” Zufelt said. “Just be cautious about lit cigarettes and maintain your vehicles to keep things from dragging and starting fires.”
Moments before he was called to another possible wildfire Thursday afternoon, Zufelt said a fire like Wednesday’s was frightening.
“It’s super scary — especially when you’re standing in front of it,” Zufelt said.