Aerial resource requests to fight Muddy Slide Fire competing with requests from blazes across Colorado
STAGECOACH — A Chinook firefighting helicopter was the main source of fire suppression used to battle the Muddy Slide Fire on Monday, as requests for more air support are competing with requests from fires that are burning across Colorado.
“It is just a fight for resources right now,” said Oak Creek Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Brady Glauthier.
The fire has moved south since it started burning Sunday afternoon, but it’s expected to move north and east in the coming days, according to an update posted at noon Monday on the incident information system website known as InciWeb.
The size of the fire is still estimated at 100 acres, but a survey plane could be seen flying overhead Monday afternoon to get a better assessment of how accurate that initial estimate is and how much it may have grown since that “rough” estimate was released Sunday night.
There are between 50 and 100 firefighters and other personnel working on the fire, according to Aaron Voos, spokesperson for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
“This is a highly visible fire based on where it is at,” Voos said. “People should expect to see smoke, again. The fire is established. … We’re going to be dealing with it for a few days.”
Smoke was much less visible compared to the large plume that developed shortly after the fire was reported Sunday, but more smoke could be seen over the fire as the day progressed.
A combination of lower temperatures and reduced wind prevented the fire from moving much overnight, but the National Weather Service in Grand Junction issued a red flag warning for western Colorado for the third straight day Monday, meaning conditions are ripe for fires to start and spread.
Firefighters noted the fire is occurring early in the season, which they said is one factor likely preventing the fire from spreading faster than it is, and while things are dry for this time of year, it would be worse later in the summer.
“If this was August, all of this would have been burned,” Glauthier said, referring to land to the east of where the fire is burning along Routt County Road 16.
The prime burning hours are in the late afternoon between 2 and 5 p.m., as that is generally the hottest part of the day, Glauthier said.
There was a call for a fire tanker plane to make a drop over the fire, as one did Sunday night, but it hadn’t arrived by about 4 p.m. because it was tied up with other fires.
The helicopter made several runs at the fire, at least twice returning to the Steamboat Springs Airport to refuel. Helicopter pilots sucked up water from a pond on the Hideaway Ranch to the southeast of the fire and dropped it over the blaze, a round trip that took about 6 to 7 minutes to complete. The helicopter was averaging about 1,200 gallons of water with each load.
A fire helicopter picks up water from the Hideaway Ranch just south east of the fire. Steve, the ranch caretaker, said he was concerned about the fire, as he hunts in the timber the #MuddySlideFire_CO is burning in and there is a lot of down trees. pic.twitter.com/4XRZLVu5Nd— Dylan Anderson (@DandersonJour) June 21, 2021
Drops were being made both on a freelance basis, meaning the pilot would assess where a drop was needed from overhead, and by coordinating locations with firefighters on the ground.
Sean Uhle, a firefighter with the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests who is working on the Muddy Slide Fire, said the fire was mainly wind driven and was spotting, which means embers are lofting high in the air and spreading the fire.
Trees could be seen engulfed in flames from C.R. 16 on Monday afternoon, with some of the spread happening in the canopy of the trees, which is referred to as crowning.
Uhle said a team of two guys went up a cattle trail near the Lost Elk Ranch off C.R. 16 to get a better look at the fire, gathering information for other firefighting teams that will arrive in the coming days.
“We’re looking for a way to access the fire to get people in here to fight it in the future,” Uhle said. “Right now, they are just monitoring and trying to figure out how to approach the whole fire.”
Multiple landowners along C.R. 16 said the fire had them concerned for their property, and they were closely monitoring the smoke billowing out from the fire throughout the day.
“All fires are concerning,” Glauthier said. “If this thing started rolling and the fire came down here, it would actually dry the grass and then burn it.”
While the fire is still within the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, firefighters have been assessing properties in the area, trying to mitigate potential risks around structures.
“If fire does come that way, which is not guaranteed, we just want to make sure that we prepare for that,” said Justin Klanecky II, a full-time firefighter with Oak Creek Fire. “Mitigation is essentially taking all the vegetation away from the house — we’re pretty much removing dead fuels.”
Routt County sent out pre-evacuation notices to residents near Green Ridge and the South Stagecoach area, which is to the east and north of the fire along C.R. 16. Area closures are expected, Voos said, but have not yet been put in place.
People who live just beyond the pre-evacuation areas don’t need to evacuate at this time, but they should have a plan if the fire spreads to force such an order, Voos said.
“By all means, (residents near the pre-evacuation areas) should be prepping in case we get to that stage,” Voos said. “That doesn’t mean that we think that the fire will get there, but it is a possibility.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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In keeping with national trends, the city of Steamboat Springs is experiencing critically low levels of staffing in several of its departments.