Backhoe hits rock, starts fire south of New Castle | AspenTimes.com
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Backhoe hits rock, starts fire south of New Castle

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

NEW CASTLE, Colo. ” A backhoe digging a trench for a new pipeline in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area struck a rock and sparked a 6-acre fire in the refuge Friday afternoon, according to state and local officials.

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the operator of the bulldozer is a contractor for Orion Energy Partners. The company is beginning construction of a pipeline and an exploratory well pad in the 13,200-acre habitat near New Castle.

The DOW uses the wildlife area as winter range for elk and mule deer and as a way to keep area wildlife off of Interstate 70.

In the wake of the fire, fire officials have asked operators building the pipeline to have a water tanker on site to put out small fires before they spread into larger ones, said Brit McClin, fire chief for the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District.

“We put a lot of the taxpayers’ resources on this thing,” McClin said.

The total cost of the fire is currently pegged at $40,758, with Garfield County and the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District on the hook for a collective total of about $14,000, he said.

The fire erupted about 1:30 p.m. Friday when the backhoe struck the rock, state and local officials said.

“(Workers) called it in immediately, and we got to it early,” McClin said. “All those hardworking souls out there were able to kill that thing before it turned into a major event.”

McClin said the fire burned about 5.9 acres. His department, Rifle Fire Protection District members, federal fire crews and Juniper Valley firefighters from the state correctional facility in Rifle all responded to the fire.

Two helicopters and a single-engine airplane also assisted with the firefighting efforts, he said. Garfield County Sheriff’s deputies were also at the scene.

McClin said two firefighters remained at the scene of the fire through Friday evening and into Saturday morning. Members of Burning Mountains monitored the fire through the weekend, he said.

“As it turns out, we didn’t need to be there,” McClin said. “There is gambling, and then there is gambling.”

Last month, Orion reached a surface-use agreement with the DOW that cleared the way for the company to begin drilling in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area. Attempts to contact the company about the fire weren’t immediately successful late Monday.

That agreement calls for Orion to institute several measures to reduce the company’s drilling impacts on area wildlife.

More natural gas development in the area may occur if the BLM decides to uphold the sale of a 360-acre federal mineral parcel in the wildlife area.

Hampton said there are fire risks to the state wildlife area even if no natural gas development would occur there. He added that fires can actually improve wildlife habitat.

“That said, we would like control over when and where that is accomplished,” Hampton said. “This fire began on a ditch bank, where we have concerns regarding erosion and debris now in that ditch. We are concerned about what occurred, and we are going to work with (Orion) on those issues.”

pyates@postindependent.com


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