UPDATE: ‘Highway 34 Fire’ grows to 12,000 acres
September 19, 2015
Weld County firefighters worked late Friday to contain a large grass fire that ignited on a ranch more than 10 miles southeast of Kersey.
The blaze, dubbed the Highway 34 Fire, was first reported about 10:15 a.m. off of U.S. 34 between Weld County roads 61 and 67, said Stephanie Cooke, spokeswoman for the Platte Valley Fire Protection District.
The fire was initially estimated at 10 acres, with firefighters from several agencies battling it throughout the day. By 8 p.m., it was estimated to have grown to close to 12,000 acres and was 50 percent contained.
By 4:30 p.m., the fire had spread to within five miles of Interstate 76, running about 10 miles south toward Keenesburg and about 20 miles east toward Wiggins. It was estimated at more than 4,800 acres. By 5:30 p.m., the fire had spread to Art Guttersen's ranch, and had reached his home. Cooke said firefighters were in "structure protection" mode on the Guttersen ranch, a 35,000 acre-ranch, which holds Guttersen's family homestead, plus barns and outbuildings and horses. The ranch also is a working cattle ranch with about 3,000 head of cattle that run between Guttersen's and an adjoining ranch to the east.
"This is big," Guttersen said, exasperated early Friday evening after monitoring the fire all day, and working to keep his property safe. Guttersen's ranch contains multiple oil and gas wells, but Cooke said the fire has not posed a problem with those.
The Colorado Department of Transportation closed I-76 at U.S. 34 — which is milepost 66 — near Wiggins in Morgan County for about 45 minutes while firefighters battled the blaze, which was fueled all day by gusty winds.
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"The wind is a very big factor today," Cooke said.
As many as 10 agencies responded to the fire, Cooke said. Joining Platte Valley were firefighters from Greeley, Evans, LaSalle, Galeton, Southeast Weld and Wiggins, Cooke said. About 1 p.m., the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control deployed three critical incident commanders to the scene. Six agencies responded with tinders, or trucks that carry form 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of water, to help firefighters with battle the blaze.
An hour later, two single-engine air tankers and a Pilatus PC-12 multi-mission aircraft were airborne and en route to the scene. As of 4 p.m., the Pilatus was surveying the fire and the two SEATs were beginning to drop water and fire retardant on the blaze, Cooke said.
No injuries were reported and no structures had been damaged.