UPDATE: As of Tuesday morning, the fire has burned roughly 3,600 acres and is 5% contained.
MESA COUNTY, Colo.- On its third day, the Pine Gulch Fire has grown to approximately 3,460 acres in the Bookcliffs as of Monday night and is only five percent contained, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Note, the information in this story was updated at 7:30pm Monday night. The story above aired before the udpated information regarding the size of the fire.
The BLM and other fire agencies responding say, the fire still has no signs of slowing down. A key weapon for authorities are wildfire air tankers, airplanes used to drop water and fire retardant chemicals on the fires. They land and refuel at Grand Junction Regional Airport.
“The aircraft is effective on the Pine Gulch Fire where we have firefighters who are able to back it up,” said Lathan Johnson, managing officer at the Grand Junction Air Center, part of the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Team. “A lot of the aircraft use that we’ve been doing is trying to delay it and reduce the probability of the fire getting out towards private land and structures.”
Johnson is part of a special fire agency which works with the BLM, U.S. Forrest Service, and National Park Service, to respond to wildfires. He says even with aircraft and almost 100 firefighters, fighting the Pine Gulch Fire remains difficult.
“This fire is burning extremely throughout the night,” Johnson said. “So it’s very challenging to get out in front of it because we can’t use the aircraft at night.”
A spokesperson for the BLM says on Tuesday a type 2 wildfire team will take control of managing this fire. Those teams are larger and have more resources.
“A type 2 organization can maybe handle up to 500,” BLM spokesperson Maribeth Pecotte said. “200-500 is pretty normal.”
Pecotte also says, a fire this size could have a long-lasting environmental impact.
“Soil is usually an issue,” she said. “Especially if you get big thunderstorms after that fire has come through and taking away all that surface vegetation.”
For Johnson and all firefighters on the ground and in the air, the work is far from over.
“It’s five percent contained right now so we have a lot of work in front of us.”