Fire near Rifle being managed to improve wildlife habitat
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Several wildfires burning in the western U.S. have flared up in the past few days, including the the Meadow Creek Fire, near Rifle, which has now spread across about 125 acres, and the Saffron Fire, near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which has burned about 2,200 acres.
Neither fire poses threats to any structures at this point and both are being managed partially for natural resource objectives. U.S. Forest Service officials said the Meadow Creek fire could conceivably burn all summer under the right weather conditions.
“Fire has played a dynamic role on this landscape in the past. It always will,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. “We are managing the Meadow Creek Fire to allow that role to continue while protecting public health. It’s a complex balancing act that involves inherent risk. But we expect to manage fires similar to this one in the future,” Fitzwilliams said, adding that the latest science and years of experience are behind the strategy used on this wildland fire.
“While the smoke from this fire has been more visible in the last couple of days, I want to stress that this fire is burning as we expected,” said Upper Colorado River Central Zone Fire Management Officer Russell Long. “Public and firefighter safety is our number one concern and we continue to manage this fire with that upmost in our minds.”
Fire and health officials will meet with Garfield County residents who might be affected by smoke from the Meadow Creek Fire. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. Saturday, July 10 in the the commons area of Coal Ridge High School, 35947 Highway 6.
The fire is burning in steep and rugged terrain 13 miles northeast of Rifle and eight miles north of New Castle. The Meadow Creek Fire is within a proposed Research Natural Area in the White River National Forest’s resource management plan. Prescribed fires have previously been used in this area for wildlife enhancement.
Eight firefighters from the Unaweep Fire Module out of Grand Junction are monitoring the fire daily and actively managing it to maintain and enhance multiple ecological resources. When necessary a helicopter is dispatched to control the size of the fire perimeter with water from bucket drops.
The Meadow Creek Fire began from a lightning strike on June 26. It is within the Rifle Ranger District on the White River National Forest.
Information and updates about fire activity are available online at http://www.inciweb.org/.