SNOWMASS CANYON - Embers flying from a smoking barbecue grill in the back of a pickup truck may be to blame for Wednesday afternoon's fire along Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon, authorities believe.
The fire forced authorities to close both upvalley lanes of the highway at Old Snowmass while firefighters from Aspen and Basalt put out at least two separate fires burning in the grass and brush on the south side of the highway, on the opposite side of the concrete barrier along the edge of the pavement.
A semi-truck driver told authorities he spied a blue Ford pickup truck a grill and cooler in the bed; the grill was reportedly smoking, said Pitkin County Sheriff's Deputy Brad Gibson. The truck driver spotted the pickup at the main Basalt intersection on the highway, headed upvalley.
Authorities were unable to locate the pickup truck, but theorize embers from the grill might have flared up while the truck was moving at highway speeds and floated across the barrier alongside the highway, Gibson said. Sparks from a dragging chain or vehicle part on the pavement wouldn't likely jump the barrier, and no cigarette butt or other obvious cause of the fire could be found, he said.
Wednesday's wildfire was apparently the second in two days to be ignited by human activity in what has become increasingly dry vegetation locally. A wildfire Tuesday in Basalt was apparently sparked by the use of fireworks.
"Don't put a burning barbecue grill in the back of a pickup truck and drive up the highway," Gibson advised.