West Fork complex closes Highway 160, spurs evacuations
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — The West Fork Complex in the San Juan mountains has quickly grown to become Colorado’s largest wildfire of the season. In just a few days, the two fires near Wolf Creek Pass have spread across about 18,000 acres, burning in rugged backcountry territory choked with beetle-killed spruce trees.
FRISCO — With several new wildfires burning in Colorado and red flag warnings in effect for much of the state, Summit County officials have put a temporary hold on slash burning permits.
“We all have seen the tragic consequences of wildfires yet again in our state, and we want to do everything we can to prevent an out-of-control blaze here in Summit County,” said Lake Dillon Fire Chief Dave Parmley. “This is a worthwhile precaution, especially as we have three teams of firefighters out of the county on the Black Forest fire, as well as two other wildfire leaders assigned to other blazes.”
The Black Forest Fire may be in a mop-up phase, but the Lime Gulch Fire near Conifer and Evergreen is still growing. The Jefferson County fire was initially called the Chair Rock Fire but officials changed the name about about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
The Jefferson County Emergency Blog has been activated to support the Chair Rock Fire, burning in the area of Foxton Road and River Road near Conifer, Colorado.
A level three evacuation (leave now) has been issued for the areas within a three-mile radius of the Foxton Road and River Road intersection. According to the JeffCo emergency blog, 410 phones were called within this evacuation area. Deputies are in the area going door to door to assist with the evacuations. Continue reading “More wildfires burning in Colorado”→
Red flag fire warnings persist in western Colorado
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Firefighters in Colorado gained ground on a handful of wildfires Friday. By the end of the day, the deadly and destructive 15,000-acre Black Forest Fire was 30 percent contained. The Royal Gorge Fire was reported as 65 percent contained after burning across a footprint of about 3,200 acres of sagebrush and in pinon forests, including stands of trees killed by ips beetles.
New fires are also burning in western Colorado, where red flag fire warnings are in effect starting 12 p.m. Saturday (June 15). Gusty winds, warm temperatures and low humidity will create challenges for firefighters in the area, including at the lightning-sparked Ward Gulch Fire, where Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief Jeff Berino is the incident commander.
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.
Forest Service cites ‘explosive wildfire conditions’ in deploying the planes
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.
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.
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.