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Pine Gulch Fire, second-largest in Colorado history, now 129,715 acres and 19% contained

Crews continuing burnout operations Saturday
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Posted at 11:38 AM, Aug 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-23 11:48:00-04

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – The Pine Gulch Fire burning north of Grand Junction was 129,715 acres as of Sunday morning after growing about 3,000 acres Saturday but remaining 19% contained, as firefighters continue burnout operations.

Fire managers said that strategic burns over the past few days have been successful in creating fire breaks and say that more of them will be “vital” in the days ahead to limit the fire’s spread. The fire was 125,191 acres as of Friday evening.

“Precision, patience and deliberate action will be key as firefighters work to remove fuel ahead of the fire,” said Dan Dallas, the Incident Commander for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

The containment lines of the fire are on its northeast and southeast sides and are so far holding well, Dallas said in his Saturday morning update.

Crews burned overnight on the southwest side of the fire, bringing it down toward the Hunter Fire burn scar. But Dallas said that there is still heat and unsafe firefighting topography in the south and southwest portions of the fire that is keeping firefighters from directly engaging it there. They hope to let the fire burn toward natural barriers where they can safely fight it.

On Saturday, crews will work in the northwestern divisions of the fire, doing burn operations along 266 Road between the fire and Highway 139 to create an anchor point to battle the fire, with support from aircraft if conditions allow. They are also using unmanned aerial systems to start ground burns.

Hand crews and heavy equipment continue to prepare roads on the fire’s northern side.

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This map of the Pine Gulch Fire shows its boundaries and the firefighting divisions as of the morning of Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020.

Crews expect high temperatures in the upper 90s Saturday, with relative humidity in the 9% to 11% range. There is a chance of thunderstorms to the west of the fire that crews said could produce outflow winds up to 20 miles per hour, which could make the fire more active.

“Fuels remain extremely dry and receptive to active burning and spotting, and the atmosphere remains unstable,” Dallas said.

Haze and smoke are expected to continue across central and western Colorado, especially in the Grand Valley. Sensitive groups living in the Loma, Fruita, Grand Junction and De Beque areas are advised to reduce any prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

There were 911 personnel working the fire as of Saturday morning, along with 6 helicopters, dozens of engines, 13 bulldozers and 25 water tenders.

The fire started about 18 miles north of Grand Junction on the afternoon of July 31 and was caused by lightning, crews have determined.

Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order memorializing a disaster emergency declaration for the Pine Gulch Fire in Mesa and Garfield counties on Saturday.

The declaration allows state agencies to coordinate operations and make more resources available for firefighting and recovery.

The order authorizes the transfer of $700,000 from the Controlled Maintenance Trust Fund into the Disaster Emergency Fund for fire suppression and recovery efforts since Aug. 3. It also activates the State Emergency Operations Plan and allows the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to coordinate the applications for and dispersal of money for different agencies.

Road closures, evacuations, emergency alerts for Pine Gulch Fire

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday afternoon that due to fire activity, several roads have been closed to the public.

These are the closures southeast of the fire:

· Roan Creek Road/County Road 204 at North Dry Fork Road/County Road 200
· V 2/10 Road southwest of DeBeque
· Coal Canyon Road just past the Cameo Shooting Range

These are the closures southwest of the fire:

· Highway 139 north of Loma between Mile Point 6 and 39 (CDOT closure)
· 21 Road north of the Bureau of Land Management boundary
· 16 Road at V 8/10 Road
· Q 5/10 Road is closed at 18 Road

The Garfield County Sheriff's Office also announced new evacuation orders Wednesday through their Facebook page. Evacuation orders are now in effect for areas on the northwest side of Pine Gulch Fire, as follows:

· From the Mesa County line north to the east/west Colorado Highway 256 (Four A Ridge Road), including north/south Colorado Highway 256
· Highway 256/205 moved from pre-evacuation to full evacuation
· From Highway 139/Douglas Pass road east to the preexisting evacuation order for Carr Creek Road/County Road 207), including Colorado Highway 205 Salt Wash and Kimball Creek Road/County Road 202 on Kimball Mountain. Colorado Highway 258/King Road is evacuated.

Roan Creek Road/County Road 204 above Brush Creek Road/County Road 209 is still under evacuation orders. Everything west of Douglas Pass/Colorado Highway 139 to the Utah state line is also in pre-evacuation status.

To learn more about evacuations, click here.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office also said they've created an online Fire Information Resource page to keep residents informed. Residents in the affected counties can sign up to receive alerts and new information on the fire here for Garfield County and here for Mesa County.

Click here to learn more about the smoke outlook in Colorado. A temporary flight restriction is in place over the Pine Gulch Fire. No drones can fly in the area.

The Pine Gulch Fire is now the second-largest wildfire in state history.

The state's 10 largest fires in history, ranked by acreage, are:
1. Hayman Fire (2002): 137,760 acres
2. Pine Gulch Fire (2020): 125,191 acres
3. Spring Fire (2018): 108,045 acres
4. High Park Fire (2012): 87,284 acres
5. Missionary Ridge Fire (2002): 72,962 acres
6. 416 Fire (2018): 54,000 acres
7. Bridger Fire (2008): 45,800 acres
8. Last Chance Fire (2012): 45,000 acres
9. Bear Springs/Callie Marie fires (2011): 44,662 acres
10. 117 Fire (2018): 42,795 acres

The Pine Gulch Fire is one of four major fires currently burning in Colorado. Click here for more Denver7 coverage of the wildfires.