PICT Fire operations at the Pine Gulch Fire August 10, 2020

Pine Gulch Fire reaches 73,000 acres – fifth largest in Colorado history

Fire operations at the Pine Gulch Fire August 10, 2020
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Chris Sorensen

The Pine Gulch Fire in Mesa and Garfield counties grew to 73,381 acres by Friday morning, overtaking the 71,739-acre Missionary Ridge Fire to become the fifth largest fire in Colorado history.

Nearly 800 firefighters are battling the blaze in a remote, sparsely populated area, though there have been a number of small evacuations. Hot, dry and windy conditions – with gusts up to 35 miles per hour at times – have contributed to the fire’s rapid growth.

Firefighters are working to build and hold lines, achieving seven percent containment over the weekend. Aircraft are also being used to help slow the fire’s spread among piñon pine, juniper and oak trees, along with sage brush.

The Garfield County Sheriff's Office has issued evacuation orders for residents on County Roads 202, 204, 207, 209 and 211. A road closure is in effect on County Road 204 at County Road 200.

The fire has been burning for two weeks about 18 miles north of Grand Junction, and continues to spread north and east. Lightning is the suspected cause. 

Elsewhere in Garfield County, the Grizzly Creek Fire burning in the White River National Forest has rapidly expanded to 13,441 acres, more than doubling in size from Wednesday evening. Over 350 firefighters, along with air tankers and helicopters, are working to slow the fire’s spread among piñon pine, juniper, and aspen trees, along with oak and sage brush.

The fire has prompted evacuations for the No Name, Lookout Mountain and Coulter Creek areas east of Glenwood Springs.

Interstate 70 between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum has been closed since Monday afternoon, and it is unknown when the highway will reopen. Colorado Highway 82 over Independence Pass has also been closed due to heavy traffic and safety concerns as semis and vehicles towing trailers became stuck on the pass. Cottonwood Pass Road in Garfield and Eagle counties has also been closed, along with other local roads.

An air quality health advisory, issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is in effect for much of northwest Colorado through at least Saturday morning due to smoke from both fires. CDPHE has been issuing advisories on a daily basis. Moderate to heavy smoke could cause breathing difficulty for people with respiratory illnesses, children, and people who are elderly. Outdoor activity should be limited.

Smoke from the fires is also contributing to air quality issues for Colorado’s northern front range communities, including Denver, where alerts are also in effect Friday.

Temporary flight restrictions – which includes drones - are also in place over the fires due to the heavy use of firefighting aircraft to battle the blazes. Flying drones in the area is a safety hazard and illegal during the flight restrictions.

Fire danger in the area remains high, and Stage 2 fire restrictions are in place for Mesa and Garfield counties. Stage 2 restrictions are also in effect for Bureau of Land Management land covered by the Grand Junction Field Office.