RIFLE, Colorado - At least 75 firefighters, along with four helicopters and three air tankers, continued on Thursday to fight a 991-acre wildfire burning in the Grand Hogback.
The fire is 15 miles north of Rifle, burning from the east side of Highway 13 up to a top ridge of the Hogback.
Among the triumphs the crews can claim is successfully protecting the Bishop ranch, which sits only a few hundred yards from scorched earth, trees and grasses burned when the blaze passed through on Wednesday.
The ranch was not touched by the flames. Mike Bishop could not be reached for comment.
The fire did not actually grow from its earlier estimated size of 500 acres, said David Boyd, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"The 500-acre size was just an estimate," Boyd said late Thursday. "We did some accurate mapping today from a helicopter and have the actual size. But we don't think it grew much today."
Although the fire did not increase in size much Thursday due to the work of aircraft and firefighters, fuels in the area are very dry and no moisture is anticipated in the coming days, according to a report posted on InciWeb.
In addition to firefighters, safety supervisors and equipment from Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Grand Valley, Mesa County and the Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority (CRFRA), the Rifle-based Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Unit is using specially trained inmates from corrections facilities in Rifle, Buena Vista and Canon City, Boyd confirmed.
"They're good firefighters, as long as you feed them well," joked Kevin Whelan of the CRFRA. "No, I mean it. They're trained to do this, and they come with squad bosses who oversee their work."
He said three 20-man crews of inmates are working on the fire. They were also called out to fight the Middle Elk fire on the Flat Tops Sept. 20-24.
The roster of equipment on the Highway 13 fire includes three heavy helicopters, including a Chinook from the National Guard facility at the Eagle County Airport in Gypsum, one light helicopter, two single-engine air tankers, a heavy air tanker and numerous ground engines.
The crews are operating from a base on the Bishop ranch, situated right along the highway.
In a field behind the Bishop home and ranch buildings, three horses grazed, showing no concern about the blackened areas stretching up the steep slopes of the Grand Hogback.
Boyd said the fire, pushed by strong westerly winds Wednesday and Thursday, has crested the Hogback's western face and reached the top.
"Now it wants to go back down the other side," he said, referring to the east side of the Hogback running down into the West Rifle Creek basin.
But even with the winds, which can force a fire downhill, Boyd said, "The terrain is more advantageous to us."
Aerial drops of fire retardant from helicopters and planes, coupled with the ground-based strategies of crews of elite smokejumpers, kept the fire from growing, Boyd explained.
He said the fire was about 5 percent contained by the end of the day on Thursday.
Investigators have concluded the fire was human-caused and is under investigation.
No firefighters have been injured to date, Boyd said, and no structures are immediately threatened by the blaze.
Firefighting equipment is stationed at various points along the highway in case the fire flares up again and does pose a threat to homes or other buildings.
Boyd could not say how long the fire can be expected to burn.
"It's looking good, but it's going to be four days of work to contain it," he said.
For updated information on the fire , visit the InciWeb site for the Highway 13 fire at www.inciweb.org/incident/3289.