Blaze 75 percent contained |

Blaze 75 percent contained

Officials warn about high fire danger in Routt County

Alexis DeLaCruz

— A wildfire that has consumed about 16 acres of Routt National Forest in Buffalo Park and a brush fire that consumed about 10 acres near Toponas on Monday are reminders that fire danger remains high throughout the county, officials said Tuesday.

“While we have no (fire) restrictions in place right now, it is very, very dry out there and the weather conditions are such that if a fire got started it could be a disaster,” said Chuck Vale, Routt County director of emergency management. “It’s getting worse every day.”

Those dry conditions have kept local and U.S. Forest Service firefighters busy battling fires in Routt, Grand and Jackson counties since last week.

Lee Duerksen, a visitor information official at the Forest Service office in Yampa, said the lighting-caused Buffalo Park fire in Grand County was about 75 percent contained Tuesday afternoon, and had burned about 16 acres since Sunday. The fire is burning south of Rabbit Ears Pass.

“They’re hoping to having it fully contained and completely taken care of in the next few days,” she said Tuesday. “It’s speculation at this point, but it’s been going really well.”

About 20 Forest Service firefighters and five engines have been working since Sunday to contain the Buffalo Park fire that spread into the Sarvis Creek Wilderness. Crews have been able to draw a protection line “around the entire fire” to prevent it from spreading, Duerksen said.

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“They’re a little concerned about some winds that are supposed to be changing (Tuesday) afternoon, but they’re staying out there and monitoring what’s happening,” she said.

In addition to the Buffalo Park fire, Vale and crews with the Oak Creek and Yampa fire protection districts spent nearly seven hours Monday night containing a fire that consumed about 10 acres near Toponas.

The fire began when a landowner’s heavy machinery “flung” existing smoldering sawdust and grass while he was cutting grass Monday, Vale said.

“We believe it was a holdover fire that had been smoldering for some time and just got slung around by this farm equipment,” he said. “The wind was just right and it took off.”

No one was injured in the Toponas fire, and crews saved eight nearby buildings that could have been damaged by the fire, Vale said. One building sustained minor damage, he added.

Toponas resident Janet Rossi reported the fire after her children, who were riding bikes at the time, noticed flames coming from a neighbor’s field.

“It’s been smoldering since May,” she said. “I knew it was going to get busy pretty soon because it’s been so hot. I finally called when my son said it was really blazing. There was no question what to do.”

Vale said the fire was further fueled by about three or four feet of scattered sawdust that had been left from an old sawmill on the property.

Dry conditions throughout Routt County could place fire restrictions on private land as early as next week, Vale said.

“It is terribly dry,” he said. “The danger for a fire is very, very high.”

The Buffalo Park fire and Seven Lakes fire in Jackson County have kept Vale on his toes the last week.

“I don’t think there’s a potential threat to Routt County, but I’ve been watching both of those,” he said. “Should those get up and run, we need to figure out if we’d have enough guys to fight those and still have guys here.”

The show must go on

City officials are confident tonight’s fireworks show will go on as planned despite high fire danger in Steamboat Springs and other cancellations around the state.

“It’s going forward,” said Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord on Tuesday. “We’ve been watering Howelsen Hill nearly round the clock in preparation for (tonight’s) show. It will be Fourth of July as usual.”

Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble encouraged residents to attend the city’s fireworks show instead of using private fireworks.

“Because it’s so dry, my advice would be to enjoy the city’s professional show and to not shoot private fireworks,” he said. “There is a very high potential for grass fires right now, so people need to use extreme caution with whatever they’re doing.”

The Steamboat Springs fireworks show begins at about 9 p.m. at Howelsen Hill.

“It’s going to be an incredible show,” DuBord said. “It gets bigger and better every year.”