RIFLE, Colo. - After five days of aggressively fighting the Highway 13 fire, which burned 991 acres east of the highway and onto the Grand Hogback, federal fire crews left the scene as they finished their shifts on Sunday.
Fire officials report the wildfire is officially 80 percent contained, but say it has little chance of spreading beyond the existing burned areas, according to David Boyd, fire information officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Silt.
"We have hit that area hard from the air over the past few days, and any new growth is extremely unlikely," said Incident Commander Ross Wilmore of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit.
"The difficult terrain in this section of the fire is not safe for firefighters on the ground. Because we won't actually build fire line in this area, we won't call the fire 100 percent contained," he added.
The human-caused fire erupted at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3, from a starting point alongside Highway 13 about 15 miles north of Rifle, and was quickly pushed eastward by stiff winds through brush and trees on BLM land and onto the Hogback.
Local crews with the Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority and the Grand Valley Fire District were first to respond, and were soon assisted by federal crews and aircraft with the Upper Colorado River Unit.
The blaze lost its momentum Wednesday evening when it hit the Hogback's ridgetop, and fire crews spent the next four days dousing hot spots and cutting a fire line around the perimeter.
They are leaving the southeast corner of the fire with no fire break because it's too steep and rugged, Boyd said, and because it's been repeatedly doused with bucket drops of water from three helicopters.
Occasional smoke may flare up from unburned pockets of brush and trees inside the fire line.
"Given the extreme terrain within some of the fire's perimeter, it's simply not worth the risk of injury to firefighters to knock down every smoke that may pop up on sunny afternoons over the next few days," said Wilmore.
"These smokes pose little threat. Local firefighters from the Upper Colorado River Unit will continue to be on scene monitoring the fire, and will take action if necessary," he said.
A team of 120 firefighters, including smokejumpers, achieved 80 percent containment on the fire on Saturday. More than half the crews were released Saturday night, and about 50 firefighters spent Sunday patrolling the perimeter and strengthening containment lines.
Go to www.inciweb.org/incident/3289/ for an update on the blaze and a map of the area.