Discarded cigarette suspected cause in Glenwood-area brush fire | AspenTimes.com

Discarded cigarette suspected cause in Glenwood-area brush fire

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentSmoke fills the air and the flags wave in the strong wind at the site of a wildfire located near Interstate 70 exit 109 and the new Colorado Parks and Wildlife building late Saturday afternoon.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Glenwood Springs fire officials believe an “improperly discarded cigarette” may have been the cause of a five-acre brush fire near Canyon Creek Saturday night that resulted in eastbound Interstate 70 being closed.

There was a minor car accident on I-70 in the vicinity around the time the fire broke out just before 6 p.m., and it was initially thought the accident may have set off the fire, Glenwood Springs acting fire chief Gary Tillotson said.

“After looking at it, we’re doubtful that the car wreck was the cause,” Tillotson said. “Until we can investigate it we won’t know for sure, but it looks like it was an improperly discarded cigarette from a passing motorist.”

The fire quickly spread from an area along I-70 just west of the railroad underpass and the Canyon Creek Exit 109, Tillotson said.

It burned along the Colorado River bank, and remained on the other side of the railroad tracks from the new Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife office. The building was not threatened, Tillotson said.

“The railroad tracks created a good fire line and kept the fire from spreading,” he said. “We were also lucky once again that we didn’t have the super strong winds we saw earlier in the week.”

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The fire was contained by firefighters within an hour, and ultimately brought under control as it reached the confluence of Canyon Creek, he said.

I-70 eastbound traffic was being diverted at New Castle Exit 105 onto U.S. Highway 6 and was allowed to re-enter I-70 at Canyon Creek. The eastbound lanes remained closed as of press time.

Tillotson said firefighters were concerned about one tree near the Colorado River that was still smoldering. Crews tried to summon a helicopter to do a water drop, but it got too dark for that to happen, he said.

“We stretched the hose lines down there to get some more water on the tree,” Tillotson said. “We’ll have people here doing mop-up overnight.”

Meanwhile, Mesa County officials lifted the evacuation order Saturday afternoon for all residents in the De Beque area affected by the Pine Ridge fire. All evacuees were allowed to return home Saturday night, according to a Mesa County Sheriff’s Office update.

Oil and gas industry operators are still required to stay out of the area, and those who evacuated livestock were asked to not return home with any large animals until further notice.

“Due to the pre-evacuation order remaining in effect in many parts of eastern Mesa County, even those residents who return home should remain vigilant and ready to leave again,” Sheriff Stan Hilkey advised.

The fire was not as aggressive Friday and Saturday as it was Thursday, when strong winds pushed the fire burning southwest of De Beque from 1,500 acres earlier in the day to 12,000 acres by nightfall.

The fire rapidly spread to the east, dropping down into the Colorado River Canyon and burning out to several islands in the river. It did not cross I-70.

Crews worked Saturday to reinforce the southwest corner, while keeping it south of Horseshoe and Sulphur Canyons, west of the Colorado River and I-70, north of Main Canyon, and east of Mustang Ranch, according to Russ Long, operation section chief for the Upper Colorado Fire Management Agency.

The main priority remains protection of the public and firefighters, as well as cottonwood stands along the Colorado River, he said.

Also on Saturday, the Pine Ridge fire evacuation center at Palisade High School was closed, as it wasn’t being used by any of the people who were evacuated. The American Red Cross remains available to reactivate the center if needed.

The Sheriff’s Office also issued a warning to motorists passing through the area on I-70 and to the news media to not stop on the shoulder in De Beque Canyon for safety reasons.

“It is not safe and ties up law enforcement resources to move vehicles along,” according to a sheriff’s statement.

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