UPDATE: Gutzler Fire south of Kremmling grows to 850 acres
A wildfire burning in Eagle County grew overnight on Monday to more than 300 acres, fueled by hot, dry weather in heavily beetle-killed terrain that has complicated suppression efforts.
The Gutzler Fire, which was reported on Sunday afternoon about 14 miles southwest of Kremmling, appears to have been caused by a lightning strike that had been smoldering since late June, the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit said on Tuesday.
The fire was downgraded to 97 acres from 250 on Monday afternoon, but by the next day it had grown by another 200 acres, benefiting from sustained winds and high fuel concentrations.
One residence and several ranch structures located a mile east of the fire were not yet threatened, but the fire management unit said that some small spot fires had begun to flare up on private land.
Crews were monitoring those structures but had not ordered any evacuations. Late Monday afternoon, the Bureau of Land Management closed the Radium Campground and boat launch, which is being used as a staging area for firefighters.
The response had grown Tuesday afternoon to around 85 personnel and two helicopters, one of which was conducting water bucket drops while the other flew reconnaissance missions.
The high risk of falling beetle-kill trees prevented crews from cutting direct suppression lines on the fire’s flanks, so they were instead focusing on containment measures, cutting lines further ahead of the blaze and attempting to use natural barriers as fire breaks when possible.
“That kind of beetle kill is generally unstable and you don’t want to be in it anyway,” Eagle-Holy Cross district ranger Aaron Mayville said. “When you add fire to the mix, it makes things even more dangerous.”
Mayville said that more firefighting assets were on their way to assist, but given the dangerous conditions and difficult terrain, the fire was likely to persist as crews keep their distance and focus on containment further ahead of the flames.
Hot, dry weather has elevated fire danger across the region, contributing to several wildfires and even prompting the city of Aspen to cancel its annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
Mayville said those conditions were likely to persist until Friday, when the weather is expected to cool somewhat and bring the chance of moisture.
Late on Monday afternoon, a wildfire erupted east of New Castle in Garfield County, although on Tuesday morning officials said the 103-acre blaze had been largely contained.
In Routt County, meanwhile, dozens of firefighters continued to battle a 270-acre wildfire north of Hayden. There was still no estimated containment level on Tuesday afternoon.
Fire danger remains high in Summit County, although local crews have only had to put out several small fires in the past two weeks. Throughout Tuesday morning, dispatchers were inundated with calls reporting smoke from the Gutzler Fire, which was thickest north of Silverthorne and cast hazy skies over holiday celebrations.
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