Beaver Creek fire victories outweigh destruction
Walden — Tornado-like formations of churning smoke signaled that Friday afternoon was going to be another active day on the Beaver Creek fire across the Continental Divide, about 50 miles northeast of Steamboat Springs.
So far, firefighters have seen more victories than defeats.
Investigators believe the 30,170-acre fire in Jackson County was caused by human activity. According to policy, that meant federal fire managers from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had to try to put it out.
Due to the extraordinary fire behavior in groves of beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees, firefighters have stayed mostly clear of the fire’s path and have focused on protecting assets, such as summer homes that litter the dirt roads in the area.
On Friday, the fire had been burning for 41 days, and the costs are adding up to the tune of $15 million, Steamboat Springs District Ranger Chad Stewart said while touring the fire. Suppression efforts are costing an average of $280,000 per day.
That includes the use of Chinook helicopters, which cost $50,000 per day.
“While a great asset, expensive,” Stewart said.
Firefighters have been successful in their efforts to protect most structures, which range from dilapidated cabins to modern mountain retreats.
Firefighters have set up hoses, pumps, generators and portable water reservoirs to protect structures that abut the beetle-killed trees. Decks have been covered with foil to prevent floating embers from sparking secondary blazes. Fire lines were dug around the properties.
When the fire got close, firefighters retreated and let the sprinklers do the work.
Many property owners have been proactive in the past 10 years and worked to remove flammable materials from around their homes.
“That’s been great to have those conversations with the homeowners and let them know the work they’ve done in the past 10 years was instrumental in keeping their property safe,” said Ich Stewart, assistant fire manager for Routt National Forest. He was also the fire’s first incident commander.
On Wednesday afternoon, the fire blew up and entered an area known as Parson’s Draw.
Numerous homes were in the path of the fire, but only one was lost.
The home was burned to the foundation. Based on the large nails that were scattered on the ground, it was probably a log cabin.
“This is our most significant loss of a structure, to date,” Ich Stewart said.
Sheds and other structures were also lost at the property, and an old pickup truck sat in the ashes.
Down the road, firefighters have dubbed one property the “miracle house.”
Hundreds of acres surrounding the house are now fields of ash. Sections of hose leading there were burned through. The portable pool of water feeding the sprinklers was scorched and had a large hole. Stumps had burned next to the home, and a soot stain on the concrete foundation was evidence a log had rolled down and burned within inches of the siding.
“That’s a close call right there,” Stewart said.
There are other success stories at the fire.
Swaths of pink fire retardant dropped by airplanes stopped the fire from reaching a home surrounded by sagebrush.
A Hotshots crew was digging a fireline on a mountainside Friday to keep the fire from advancing toward more properties.
Rain is expected this weekend, and a change in the weather is expected to calm the fire, but probably only temporarily. It is 12 percent contained, and it might be late fall before the beast is finally snuffed out.
Approximately 300 firefighters, including several from Routt County, are working long days and nights to protect homes that have been passed down through families for generations.
“We’ve got the best in the country here fighting for us,” Stewart said.
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