Authorities are preparing for the possibility of a second landslide in a remote part of western Colorado amid dangerously unstable conditions that have forced them to call off the search for three missing ranchers that went missing in an earlier landslide.
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said Tuesday the search would continue once conditions are stable for Clancy Nichols, 51, who worked as a county road and bridge employee; his son Danny Nichols, 24; and Wes Hawkins, 46, the longtime manager of the local water district.
However, this search may not resume until summer.
‘‘We don’t want to create any more tragedy than we already have,’’ Hilkey said.
The three missing men were checking on irrigation problems caused by an initial slide Sunday when a chunk of a ridge broke off, causing soggy earth to spill like wet cement.
The Hilkey and Hawkins’ family confirmed that it was natural for the men to check on the problem since water is the lifeblood of the West.
‘‘He was concerned for other families and their homes should the water system be compromised,’’ the Hawkins’ family said in a statement.
The slide is 3 miles long, about three-quarters of a mile across at its widest and several hundred feet deep at the center per Boston.com. Even at its edges, the pile is still 30 feet deep, Hilkey said.
The slide most likely was set off by runoff from Grand Mesa – one of the world’s largest flat-topped mountains – followed up by two days of strong rain, Hilkey had said.
Jonathan White, a Colorado Geological Survey geologist at the site, told reporters Tuesday that a second landslide in the sparsely populated area seems inevitable because of a buildup of water in a depression created by the first large slide.
‘‘We’re having a significant amount of runoff that’s flowing into that depression right now,’’ White said. ‘‘That’s a big concern.’’
White said it was impossible to guesstimate when the second landslide would occur. “It could be years from now,” he said.
Authorities Prepare For Possible Second Landslide in Colorado