Lightning storm sparks wildfires
July 24, 2006
One of several fires that apparently were started by a spectacular lightning storm Sunday night had burned dozens of acres on private land south of Rifle by Monday.The Savage Fire, named for property owned by the Savage family, was burning between Porcupine and Beaver creeks off County Road 320.A dry lightning storm resulted in numerous fire calls in the Rifle Fire Protection District Sunday night.”Little fires started everywhere. There were so many I couldn’t keep up with them for a while,” said Garfield County road and bridge supervisor Marvin Stephens, who helped out on the Savage Fire.The storm also apparently was responsible for knocking out electrical power to about 3,750 Xcel Energy customers. Power went out in parts of the Rifle and Silt areas for more than an hour Sunday evening, said Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz. He said the outage resulted from problems with a 69,000-volt transmission line and probably was weather related.Another storm was striking the area again on Monday afternoon.”It’s throwing bolts like cats and dogs right now,” said Clay Fowler, assistant fire management officer with the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Center in Rifle.Monday’s storm was hitting north of Rifle, and new fires were reported Monday near the JQS Trail area and on top of the Roan Plateau.Matt Mollenkamp, a Rifle firefighter and paramedic, said the first calls on the Savage Fire came in between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday night.Initial estimates on the size of the fire ranged widely, from 20 acres to 60 or more.The fire had reached steep terrain, making containment more difficult, Mollenkamp said.”The helicopters really are doing a lot of work in those areas because you can’t get a crew in right now,” he said.A single-engine air tanker and heavy air tanker also responded, along with a 20-man ground crew from the Rifle Correctional Center, two 20-man hot shot crews, five Bureau of Land Management brush trucks, a county bulldozer and water trucks, and water haulers supplied by natural gas developers. Firefighters from Parachute and the Burning Mountains Fire Department also assisted the Rifle department on the fire.No structures were in danger, although the fire burned a haystack and threatened some gas lines, Mollenkamp said.The fires followed a prolonged lightning storm Sunday night.”We had some erratic weather and erratic fire behavior,” Mollenkamp said. “Stuff that you usually see in the afternoon was happening at 3 o’clock in the morning.”Brit McLin, chief of the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, which covers the New Castle and Silt areas, said he was surprised there were no fires there Sunday night.”We certainly took a lot of lightning strikes, but it didn’t seem to start anything. I’m not complaining about that,” he said.Meanwhile, by Monday morning crews had fully contained and controlled the Puma Fire, which had burned about five acres 12 miles north of Rifle. The fire was first reported Saturday afternoon. More than 60 firefighters, an engine, a single-engine air tanker and a helicopter had worked the fire.