Lowline fire grows near Gunnison as crews contend with dry weather

Rainfall forecast across the Colorado mountains in the coming week could aid firefighters battling the growing Lowline fire near Gunnison, fire officials said in a Sunday morning update.

But for now, recent warm and dry weather has only helped the lightning-sparked fire grow, and temperatures are expected to rise in the next day or two — making any weather relief uncertain. The fire burned through 1,096 acres as of Sunday morning, up from 730 acres two days earlier. It was reported to be 7% contained.

The current footprint is equivalent to nearly 2 square miles — still small by wildfire standards, but worrisome because the fire burning 14 miles north of Gunnison is nearing homes and other structures.

Elsewhere in Colorado, the comparatively tiny Thunder fire, which has burned 5 acres in San Miguel County in the southwestern part of the state, was reported to be 100% contained Sunday morning.

Joel Peters, a spokesman for the interagency team fighting the Lowline fire, said during a recorded briefing Saturday morning that crews were aiming to suppress the spread of the fire on the northern and southern flanks, where homes and other structures potentially are at risk. They have put up less resistance in the less-populated areas west of the fire, where ridges and other barriers may help slow the fire’s growth.

The fire, first reported Wednesday, is burning mostly on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service between Squirrel and Mill creeks, but it’s spread north of Squirrel Creek.

An evacuation order is still in place for homes along County Road 727 near the fire’s southern edge. But a pre-evacuation notice was lifted about 3 p.m. for County Road 818 farther from the fire, near Ohio Creek, Gunnison County Emergency Management posted Sunday afternoon on Facebook. The agency said residents and livestock could safely return to the area.

More than 300 firefighters were working on the Lowline fire, according to Sunday’s update. It said fireline construction and burnout operations would continue during the day.

Gunnison County officials say that despite some road closures near the fire, key routes that draw adventurers and summer tourists to Crested Butte and other parts of the county remain open, including Kebler Pass.

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