Pine Gulch Fire Burning North Of Grand Junction, And Officials Expect It To Keep Growing

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.

The Pine Gulch Fire north of Grand Junction now covers more than 42,000 acres as of Tuesday. Firefighters expect low humidity, gusty winds and high temperatures to continue to fuel the fire’s rapid growth.

Officials have the wildfire 7 percent contained — a slight increase compared to previous reports. However, the fire has grown over 15,000 acres since Saturday, thanks to the hot and dry conditions in the area where the fire is burning. 

“Part of the fire is in extremely steep, rugged terrain,” operation chief Tom Barter said in a video briefing. “And currently we can't get any firefighters right to this location as it is now."

More than 580 personnel, which includes several aircraft crews, have been deployed to combat the Pine Gulch Fire. Garfield County officials have issued evacuation orders for residents nearby. 

The fire has been burning since July 31, after lightning struck brush in open space along the Mesa and Garfield county line.

Smoke from the Pine Gulch Fire and the nearby Grizzly Creek fire has blown east into the Front Range. The National Weather Service issued an air quality health advisory to many parts of the state. Paul Schlatter with the weather service in Boulder said those sensitive to unhealthy air, like young children and elderly people, should stay indoors to avoid potential harm.

“With the really hot weather and what we call ‘sinking motion aloft’, it traps a lot of the ozone that cars produce, so there's also quite a bit of ozone in the air,” Schlatter said.

Schlatter said he expects the extreme fire conditions and smoke to stick around. 

"The hot, dry conditions are going to continue for the foreseeable future,” he said.