Pine Gulch Fire Spurs Some Evacuations As It Grows Rapidly North Of Grand Junction

Pine Gulch Fire
Courtesy of Incident Information System
A plume of smoke from the Pine Gulch fire can be seen for miles on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. The smoke is prompting air-quality warnings in Mesa and Garfield counties.

Update, 8/10/2020: The Pine Gulch fire has grown to more than 25,000 acres as of late Sunday night.

Sunday was another challenging day of hot and dry conditions for crews trying to control the very active Pine Gulch fire burning north of Grand Junction.

The fire, which is burning in Mesa and Garfield counties, grew about 2,000 acres overnight Saturday. It’s nearly 24,000 acres -- or about 37 square miles. 

On Saturday, Garfield County issued an evacuation order for the small number of residences on county roads 200 and 202, and, as the fire continues to move northeast, a pre-evacuation order for all residences on county roads 204, 207, 209 and Clear Creek Road. 

Fire District Chief Mike Harvey with the De Beque Fire Protection District encouraged residents in the area to pack up and be ready to leave on a moment's notice. 

Pine Gulch Fire
Courtesy of Incident Information System
Flames from the Pine Gulch fire light up the night on Aug. 8, 2020. The fire is now more than 23,000 acres, fueled by hot weather and drought conditions on the Western Slope.

Garfield officials say there are about eight homes on County Road 204. Emergency Management Operations personnel visited the people in those homes Friday night to discuss the fire and evacuation preparation. 

“You can also help the firefighters by moving vehicles away from your house, moving flammable stacks of wood. You absolutely can start removing brush around your house,” Harvey said.

He  also encouraged residents of the area to start making evacuation plans for large animals like horses.

The firefighting crews spent much of the weekend working on fire lines. The fire is now 7 percent contained. About 500 personnel are in the area to work on the fire.

The wind conditions, which had been spreading the fire quickly and making it rough for containment, are expected to die down in the next few days, but that doesn’t mean the fire will be easy to control. Officials said the dry sage brush and low humidity will continue to fuel the fire. 

Incident meteorologist Lisa Kriederman with the National Weather Service said several conditions are aligning for the Pine Gulch fire. 

“Currently, we're in a severe drought. We've been in very warm temperatures lately since the last week of July -- we've had above normal temperatures in this area, as well as below normal precipitation,” Kriederman said.

She also said that the area has set records for low humidity recently. 

“We just have no moisture in the atmosphere. And that's going to transfer to the fuels. So our, our bushes, our trees, the heavy timbers, all that dry air is going to transfer to them. And they are going down to near or record values of low moisture,” Kriederman said.

The federally-run site Inciweb said Sunday that the fire will continue to move north toward residences and additional structures.

Both counties are under Stage 1 fire restrictions, and the National Weather Service has issued an Air Quality Alert because of heavy smoke near the fire. The smell of smoke is in the air in Grand Junction. The weather service said Sunday that winds will push the smoke from the Pine Gulch fire east for the next several days. 

“Expect an elevated plume over I-70  during afternoons, then smoke settling into the mountains overnight and into Denver in the late night/morning hours,” the National Weather Service in Boulder said in a tweet.