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Colorado: Black Forest fire destroys 360 homes


Fire danger remains high across much of Colorado.

No containment yet, as winds and fuel continue to vex firefighters

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Black Forest Fire has spread across about 15,000 acres and destroyed 360 homes, making it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado on record in terms of property damage. More information on all Colorado wildfires at http://www.coemergency.com/.

Wind and fuel conditions are the big wild cards as firefighters try to gain some measure of containment, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, describing how the fire has been smoldering in a thick layer of pine needles and cones, then flaring to 30-foot flames when the winds pick up.

There were areas where things look pretty well calmed down, then you have a gust of wind and your’re back to a raging fire … The wind is probably the number-one game changer,” Maketa said.

Officials still don’t have any idea how the fire started, but Maketa said arson investigators were sifting through ashes near where the fire was first reported until the fire once again flared up in that area.

Maketa said there hasn’t been much discussion of containment — and that there won’t be, until a fire line is established somewhere along the perimeter and holds for 24 hours.

The evacuation order at the fire now covers 94,000 acres, 13,000 homes and 38,000 people, Maketa said.



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Military airtankers to join Colorado firefighting efforts

Forest Service cites ‘explosive wildfire conditions’ in deploying the planes

Two MAFFS aircraft will be coming from the 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, WY, and two aircraft will be from the local 302nd Airlift Wing here in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield)

Two MAFFS aircraft will be activated to help fight the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield).

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —After a sudden start to the Colorado wildfire season, The U.S. Forest Service is activating two giant C-130s to help with aerial firefighting efforts. The planes are equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems that can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant on a single run. They can discharge their entire load in under five seconds or make variable drops.

The systems will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. They will be based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will begin flying wildfire suppression missions as soon as safe and effective operations can be established.

“We are experiencing an uptick in wildfire activity and we are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we have adequate air tanker capability as we confront explosive wildfire conditions in Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere in the West,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress wildfires that are threatening lives, homes, infrastructure, and valuable natural and cultural resources.”

Airtankers are used in wildfire suppression to deliver fire retardant to reduce the intensity and slow the growth of wildfires so that firefighters on the ground can construct containment lines safely, which is how wildfires are suppressed.

Fire retardant is not typically used to suppress wildfires directly. Professional fire managers decide whether to use airtankers to deliver fire retardant , and where to use them, based on the objectives they have established to manage wildfires and the strategies they are using to achieve them.  Airtankers are not requested for all wildfires.

The Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense that has been in place for 40 years. The U.S. Forest Service owns the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems equipment and supplies the retardant, while the Department of Defense provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.

The U.S. Forest Service has a total of eight Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems ready for operational use. Military installations in Wyoming, North Carolina, California, and Colorado provide C-130s to fly the missions.

In 2012, Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems delivered 2.4 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada.  That was the second busiest year for the systems in at least the last 20 years. 1994 was the busiest year, when they delivered more than 5 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions.

Major wildfires still burning unchecked in Colorado

Airtankers expected to join battle against fires today

Big Meadows fire Rocky Mountain National Park Arial view

A June 11 aerial view of the Big Meadows fire in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Colorado wildfire map June 2013

Colorado wildfire map June 2013.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Authorities say they still don’t know the cause of destructive Black Forest Fire, which is still burning uncontained and has destroyed dozens of houses in El Paso County.

The fire has spread across several thousand acres since it started June 11 and more than 2,000 homes are still under evacuation orders. About 150 firefighters are trying to establish defensive lines to protect other at-risk homes in an area that lacks fire hydrants, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Continue reading

Colorado: Several wildfires erupt on hot and windy day

Evacuations ordered near Royal Gorge

SUMMIT COUNTY — On a day that began with red flag warnings across many parts of Colorado, multiple fires have been reported, including the Royal Gorge Fire, which has managed to jump across the Arkansas River and grew to about 200 acres by Tuesday afternoon, just west of Canon City.

Evacuations are also in effect in the Black Forest area, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office:

Another fire has started in the Big Meadows area of Rocky Mountain National Park.


More info on the fire in Rocky Mountain National Park in this NPS press release:

Today, Tuesday, June 11, an interagency crew consisting of Rocky Mountain National Park and US Forest Service firefighters were flown to the Big Meadows Fire located on the north end of Big Meadows on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The location is roughly 4.5 miles from the Green Mountain Trailhead. The preliminary report is the fire did not grow much last night and remains at approximately 2 to 3 acres, mainly burning in grass. The fire was caused by lightning.

Although it is preferred to allow naturally occurring fires to burn for the benefit of the resource and future fire breaks, park managers have decided to suppress the fire when safe to do so. Extended drought conditions and reduced interagency resources weighed in to this decision. The capacity to manage what would likely be a long duration fire is significantly limited.

This decision did not come easily; each fire’s risk is managed individually.  Park managers look at each naturally occurring fire on a case by case basis when determining how best to manage a fire.

High winds today are impacting firefighting operations but have not increased the footprint of the fire significantly.   Firefighters have not seen any open flames today and the fuel moisture is relatively high.  Smokejumpers are staged nearby if needed. Firefighters will be using minimum impact tools to suppress smoldering grass and other dead and down material. The area does contain beetle killed trees; snags are being removed for firefighter safety.

Currently there are five trails temporarily closed in the area – the Onahu Trail, the Green Mountain Trail, the lower Tonahutu Trail, the Tonahutu Spur Trail and the Grand Lake Lodge Spur Trail.

Colorado: 300-acre wildfire burning near Rifle

Ground crews, single-engine air tankers attack fire Wednesday afternoon

Smoke from a wildfire near Rifle filtered into Summit skies Wednesday afternoon.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Dried-out summer fuels and high winds are fueling a 300-acre wildfire near Rifle, Colorado. According to local fire officials, the fire is burning along Highway 13, near mile marker 15. Continue reading

Summit County crews assigned to regional fires

Summit County crews are helping out on several wildfires in the region.

Dry lighting still triggering small fires on Colorado Western Slope

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Firefighters have been able to contain a number of lightning-caused wildfires on the Western Slope of Colorado, including the Wrigley Fire and the Long Mesa Fire, burning in the BLM’s Black Canyon Wilderness area.

Elsewhere on the Western Slope, crews are still responding to reports of smoke and smaller fires, scattered primarily over the west and central zones, as thunderstorms continue to spark small blazes in dry fuel.

Suppression work on the Long Mesa Fire advanced using ground crews and helicopter assistance for logistics and some “bucket drops” of water. Better visibility and more accurate mapping capabilities reduced the affected area for this fire to 150 acres. Three crews continue to work on the fire in rough, rugged and remote terrain. Continue reading

Colorado: Pine Ridge Fire fully contained

No new fires reported

A slurry drop at the Pine Ridge Fire. Photo courtesy Brian Borjon/InciWeb.

Firing operations help firefighters contain the Pine Ridge Fire along one of its boundaries. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite facing windy conditions, firefighting crews were able to fully contain the Pine Ridge Fire that burned northeast of Grand Junction for eight days, at one point forcing the evacuation of an entire town as the flames raced toward De Beque.

Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg declared the fire contained at about 6 p.m. on July 4. The fire burned across 13,920 acres in dry brush and scattered stands of piñon pines. At times, the fire burned within sight of the Colorado River and required the intermittent closure of I-70. Continue reading

Will History Repeat Itself? The Great Fire of 1910

The Great Fire of 1910 burned across 3 million acres and killed more than 80 people.

*This story is published under an article exchange with Pie Consulting & Engineering.

By Jon Schear

SUMMIT COUNTY — Harry Houdini was quoted as saying, “Fire has always been and seemingly, will always remain, the most terrible of elements.”

With the approach of a hot, windy summer here in Colorado, these words have never sounded more true.

In a recent interview with America’s News Radio Network, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief Jeff Berino alluded to the “perfect storm” conditions arising in the western region of the United States. According to Berino, who also works for Pie Consulting & Engineering as a wildfire investigator, today’s conditions are  reminiscent of the 3 million acre Big Burn of August, 1910; conditions could be ripe for another blaze of equal or greater intensity, he said.

Listen to the interview here.

Many factors contribute to the “perfect storm,” perhaps best understood as stages:

Stage 1: The Setup
A few specific things contribute to potential wildfire starts and typically involve the weather. A dry and hot climate is a major influence and is usually spurred on by early snowmelt and drought conditions (a consistent issue here in Colorado).

Without moisture in the air and soil, vegetation can dry out and die, which creates fuel for a wildfire to start. Adding to this are bark beetles, which can grow to epidemic rates in dry and hot weather, adding even more fuel in the form of dead trees. Continue reading

Waldo Canyon Fire 55 percent contained

A smoke column from the Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26. Photo courtesy Adam Drake/InciWeb.org.

Some residents able to visit their neighborhoods to survey damage; Highway 24 re-opens

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Firefighters say they’ve been able to more than halfway contain the deadly Waldo Canyon Fire, a blaze that will go down in history as Colorado’s single most destructive wildfire.

The fire started June 23, three miles west of Colorado Springs. Three days later, it exploded eastward toward the city, killing two people, destroying 346 homes and requiring the evacuation of 32,000 people.

By Sunday afternoon, incident commander Rich Harvey said the 17,827-acre fire was 55 percent contained and announced the re-opening of Highway 24, a major transportation route into the central mountains. Continue reading

Pine Ridge Fire 35 percent contained

Terrain, access and concern about resources challenge firefighters

Pine Ridge Fire burning near I-70 in De Beque Canyon. Photo courtesy De Beque Fire Protection District. Click the pic to see the entire Pine Ridge gallery at inciweb.org.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Pine Ridge Fire, in Mesa County, Colorado, has grown to more than 13,000 acres but is also more than a third contained, with continued concerns about potential threats to the town of De Beque and the I-70 corridor.

Fire behavior contineus to be extreme in some sectors, with torching, backing and more fire in fuel islands remaining on the fire’s interior.

Fire officials said key factors, including winds and fuel moisture, combined, indicate  there is a high potential for extreme fire behavior, intensity, and growth. With a shift in the wind, firefighters had to hold the line on the north, northeast and southeast flanks.

The Union Pacific Railroad is helping to deliver water to remote areas of the fire by rail and a team of resource advisors is working with fire managers because of concerns about  oil and gas well locations, cultural resources, threatened and endangered species, and the wild horse range.

Pine Ridge Fire

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