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Pine Gulch fire grows to second-largest in Colorado history; investigators seek tips on Cameron Peak fire’s ignition

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a health advisory for the smoke emitted by the wildfires

The Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction is burning on more than 134,000 acres. (Handout)

A wildfire burning in remote terrain in western Colorado is now the second largest in the state’s history, fire officials said Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, the so-called “Pine Gulch” fire spread across 125,108 acres, or 195.5 square miles, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, the inter-agency which coordinates wildfire and other hazard incidents throughout the area.

The Pine Gulch fire is 18 miles north of Grand Junction and started July 31 from a lightning spark. The fire hasn’t destroyed any homes in the remote area, but there were evacuations in a nearby county last week.

It is 7% contained.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a health advisory for the smoke emitted by the wildfires and warned nearby residents to limit outdoor activities and stay inside. They added that the warnings were especially true for sensitive groups including those with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young, and the elderly.

“If visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke in your neighborhood, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy,” the department wrote.

READ: So you need to get to Colorado’s Western Slope? Here are your options.

The largest recorded wildfire in Colorado is known as the Hayman fire, which torched more than 138,000 acres, or 215 square miles, in 2002. That blaze destroyed more than 125 homes and was blamed for causing six deaths.

Meanwhile, another large blaze east of Glenwood Springs — the Grizzly Creek fire — has shut down Interstate 70, the state’s main east-west highway, for over a week. It has scorched more than 28,000 acres and is 4% contained.

The Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the Glenwood Springs Fire Department)

The state is currently battling four wildfires that have spread across over 273.4 square miles.

The other two are the Cameron Peak fire west of Fort Collins and the Williams Fork fire near Fraser.

The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday asked the public to submit information on the ignition of the Cameron Peak fire, which is believed to have been human caused. Anyone who took photos or video the day — Aug. 13 — the fire began is asked to email them to SM.FS.usfsarp@usda.gov.

The Williams Fork fire is also believed to be human caused. Officials believe the Grizzly Creek fire ignited after someone dragged something on Interstate 70.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis warned that the hot and dry conditions could worsen the wildfire spread. He issued a 30-day statewide ban on campfires and fireworks. Polis also said the three other fires burning in the state are suspected to be human-caused.

Polis and other state health officials warned that the poor air quality can often cause symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus and urged people to get tested if they are concerned about exposure to the virus.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved funds to help Colorado deal with the blazes.

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