Colorado wildfires: Lowline fire north of Gunnison grows to more than 2 square miles

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests
Firefighters build containment lines as part of the response to the Lowline fire north of Gunnison, Sunday, July 30, 2023.

A wildfire burning on U.S. Forest Service land northwest of Gunnison has grown to 1,427 acres – about 2 square miles – as firefighters worked to thin out overgrown vegetation in the area.

No injuries or damage to buildings have been reported so far, officials said. But a neighborhood of around a dozen homes remains under a mandatory evacuation order. 

Wet weather and cooler temperatures late Sunday and Monday helped crews draw their first set of control lines. Firefighters reached about 21 percent containment by Monday afternoon, said Rick Barton, a public information officer for the response team. 

“The weather has been a big help for us,” Barton said. “We’re starting to make some progress out there.” 

The Lowline fire ignited last week after a lightning bolt struck an area of remote forest service land. The area is full of dry, beetle-kill timber and grasses, which has kept the fire smoldering, Barton said. 

Fire crews had to pause containment efforts over the weekend multiple times due to sudden spot fires, when embers from the main fire blow into a new area and begin burning. Thunderstorms have also made aerial water drops dangerous, Barton said. 

Officials have lifted a pre-evacuation notice for residents along County Road 818 to the intersection of County Road 730 (Ohio Creek). A mandatory evacuation order remains in place for homes along County Road 727. 

Fire crews plan to conduct more defensive burning Tuesday to protect nearby homes, cabins and ranches. More than 100 personnel have been working to contain the blaze. 

Smoke from the fire could clog up skies over Crested Butte and Gunnison over the coming days, especially as the weather gets hotter and drier later this week, Barton added. The National Weather Service has issued an air quality advisory for central Gunnison County that runs through 9 a.m. Wednesday.

“Even though we're getting rain, which we really appreciate, it's not enough to put the fire out,” he said. “It’s just going to hold the fire longer until we can get around it more.” 

The team responding to the fire will hold a community informational meeting Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at the Gunnison County Public Library. The meeting will also be live streamed on Facebook.