Update: Winter Valley Fire grows to 6,400 acres near Elk Springs, Cross Mountain in western Moffat County
Updated 10 a.m. Saturday:
The Winter Valley Fire grew to an estimated 6,400 acres by Friday evening, according to a news release from the Bureau of Land Management.
Weather conditions appear to have helped firefighting efforts Friday. Lily Park resident Larry Hoover, whose home was in the path of the fire, reported that the area received some steady, if not heavy, rain Friday morning and afternoon.
The recommended evacuation for residents in the area has been lifted, however power has not yet been restored.
Starting near Elk Springs in western Moffat County, the fire reached Cross Mountain and charred 5,200 acres by 11 p.m. Thursday.
U.S. Highway 40 closed Thursday afternoon between Maybell and Elk Springs due to heavy smoke and fire danger, but the highway was re-opened shortly after 10 a.m. Friday.
No structural damage was reported as of Thursday night, however, six or seven gas wells were caught in the path of the flames, said BLM spokesperson Courtney Whiteman.
Hoover, a Lily Park native, suddenly found his home directly in the blaze’s course Thursday evening, as high winds blew the flames northeast, and he was forced to evacuate. From the safety of his cousin’s house across the Yampa River, Hoover and family members spent a restless night watching the fire close in around three sides of his home.
“We watched all last night,” Hoover said Friday morning. “From our viewpoint down there, it was at least a three-mile swath across and nothing but flames.”
Hoover said he saw as many as four planes dropping rounds of fire retardant on and around his house, as well as firefighters stationed there to protect his home.
“My prayers were answered,” he said, after waking to find his house still standing. “They did a good job on it and really protected me, and I owe them a lot of gratitude.”
Hoover noted the winds continued to whip throughout the night but had died down by Friday morning. Power was cut to residences in the area Thursday night and it’s unknown when it will be restored.
About 150 personnel were expected to deploy to the fire Friday, and two hotshot crews had been ordered to help battle the fast-moving flames, Whiteman said. A type-3 incident management team was called in Thursday evening to help fight the blaze.
The fire was first reported to be around 10 to 15 acres as of noon Thursday, and it began about a mile and half south of Elk Springs. Winds of up to 50 miles per hour drove the fire fast and hard to the north and east, producing heavy smoke and closing U.S. Highway 40 in both directions from Maybell to Elk Springs at 2:20 p.m.
The fire spurred the mandatory evacuations late afternoon Thursday of 25 to 30 residences near Deerlodge Park, Lily Park and surrounding areas, as well as hunters and campers. Evacuation is still recommended but not mandatory as of Friday morning, Whiteman said.
The blaze is burning in mostly grass and sagebrush on BLM land and private land. A communications tower and a Federal Aviation Administration tower were also threatened Thursday evening, and power outages were expected as firefighters cut power lines to protect residents’ safety, Whiteman said.
The fire jumped U.S. 40 by mid-afternoon Thursday, and a detour was set up to divert westbound traffic along Moffat County Road 57, or Price Creek Road, near Maybell, and eastbound traffic along Colo. Highway 64 near Dinosaur and Blue Mountain.
Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation and Moffat County Road & Bridge are assisting with firefighting efforts and road closures.
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.