Byers Canyon fire fully contained; rain, humidity help
The Byers Canyon fire, officially dubbed the Rifle Range Fire, reached full containment Thursday, Aug. 27, at noon as Grand County fire officials announced a close to the three-day wildland firefighting efforts.
Smoke will likely remain visible over the coming days as firefighters continue to patrol the burn area and monitor the perimeter for hot spots.
Assistant Chief for Grand Fire Schelly Olson confirmed Thursday morning the Byers Canyon fire burned an area totaling approximately 640 acres. Olson explained suppression efforts were aided Wednesday evening and Thursday morning by higher humidity and increased moisture, in the form of overnight rain showers. Firefighters were also aided Thursday by a high rail water truck provided by Union Pacific.
Olson said firefighters were working to contain a small spot fire in steep rugged terrain in Byers Canyon on Thursday morning, but that Highway 40 through the Canyon was open. As of Thursday morning County Road 20 was still closed but is expected to open Friday morning. Pioneer Park in Hot Sulphur Springs is now open and the Byers Rifle Range will open to the public again on Saturday.
The fire started Monday morning shortly before noon at the Byers Canyon Rifle Range just west of Byers Canyon on Highway 40. Officials confirmed the fire was started by a .223 full-metal-jacket rifle round. County officials stressed the ammunition was legal at the rifle range and the fire was not started by a tracer/phosphorus round.
Local fire officials are encouraging future patrons of the rifle range to bring a fire extinguisher with them in an attempt to prevent similar events.
Monday afternoon, as winds picked up, the fire began spreading and pushed into the north rim of Byers Canyon and into portions of the Canyon itself. On Monday the fire also jumped Highway 40 and burned an area of state-owned land south of the road.
On Monday air resources were called in to help battle the blaze including two heavy air tankers and two single-engine air tankers. Heavy air tankers dropped two loads of retardant Monday and the single-engine tankers dropped a total of four loads. The air tankers refilled at JeffCo Airport.
A helicopter was also called in to drop buckets of water into Byers Canyon, using water taken from the Colorado River. The exact figure for the number of helicopter drops was unavailable Thursday morning as additional operations were ongoing in the Canyon.
Olson confirmed Thursday that no injuries have been reported from the fire and no structures were reported as damaged.
Along with air resources multiple local, state and federal agencies responded to the conflagration. Much of the area burned by the Byers Canyon Fire lies on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which aided in the fire fighting efforts.
Similarly the U.S. Forest Service sent assets from the Laramie Ranger District, the North Park Ranger District and Grand County’s own Sulphur Ranger District. Four state agencies participated in the multi-day response including the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
All County fire departments, Hot Sulphur Springs/Parshall Fire, Kremmling Fire, Grand Fire, Grand Lake Fire and East Grand Fire, participated in the suppression work along with a 20 man hand-crew from Juniper Valley/Buena Vista Fire. Supporting their work was the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Grand County EMS and the Grand County Office of Emergency Management. County Road and Bridge provided heavy equipment and operators while Grand County Search and Rescue was on stand-by in the event any firefighters became trapped or lost.
Because of firefighting work and water bucket drops in Byers Canyon, crews from Union Pacific and Amtrak were also on scene helping guide trains through the Canyon and to clear obstructions from the track.
The Salvation Army set up in the area and helped provide amenities to those battling the blaze. Along with their donations local businesses Rocky’s Towing, Showboat Catering, Java Lava and City Market donated to the efforts, as well as the Town of Hot Sulphur Springs.
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The Bureau of Land Management is planning prescribed burns in Grand County ahead of the fire season.