Firefighters extinguish one wildfire south of Hayden as second continues to burn near Wolf Mountain (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — By Tuesday afternoon, firefighters had reduced a 170-acre grassland fire in southwest Routt County to an ashen scar.
Chief Chuck Wisecup with the Oak Creek Fire Protection District said the Indian Run Fire, the largest of the season in Routt County, was 85% contained as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, with most personnel scheduled to return home by the end of the day.
Some will not have much of a break as they head to battle a second, smaller fire on private land near Wolf Mountain.
Officials are calling it the Mill Creek 2 Fire, a sort of sequel to a 2017 blaze with the same name.
As of Tuesday, firefighters had contained about 80% of the blaze, which sparked Monday night, according to David “Mo” DeMorat, the county’s emergency management director.
Flames about a foot tall continue to burn on a half-acre of fallen timber and sparse forest, he added, where logging operations had been taking place.
“Most of the standing trees that were within the fire were felled by West Routt (Fire Protection District),” DeMorat said.
Embers also continue to burn within many of the burned trees and stumps. Firefighters have been working to douse any such embers, or hot spots, before they spark more flames.
Wisecup, the incident commander for the Indian Run Fire, was overseeing similar efforts, which he called “cold trailing,” on the burned areas of private and Bureau of Land Management land.
Fifty firefighters from all five Routt districts, as well as BLM Hotshots, U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters and a crew from South Dakota helped to extinguish the blaze, according to Wisecup.
A hilly landscape of sagebrush, scrub oak and low-lying grasses fueled the flames, which helped them spread to more than 100 acres within a matter of hours.
“Fast-moving grass fires are actually the most dangerous because people don’t realize how fast they can move,” Wisecup said.
The rough terrain also made it difficult for fire engines to travel across the area. One vehicle from South Dakota popped its tire on a charred stalk, according to DeMorat.
Planes aided ground crews in extinguishing the Indian Run Fire by dropping fire retardant on the hillsides. The substance formed a rust-colored border between the black burn scars and the green, unaffected vegetation.
Wisecup took a drive through the charred area on Tuesday afternoon. Occasionally, a gust would form dark whirlwinds of ash that resembled dust devils.
Wisecup called them “ash whirls,” explaining they can sweep up an ember and ignite a blaze hundreds of feet away.
To prevent that from happening, firefighters patrolled the perimeter of the burn area and felt the ground for hot spots. Even though there were no active flames, Wisecup was hesitant to call the fire completely contained.
“Typically, you don’t want to see smoke for at least 24 hours before you call it ‘out,’” he said.
Logan Blankenship, a Hotshot from Craig, said as of Tuesday afternoon he was still seeing occasional plumes of smoke coming from the larger vegetation.
“That scrub oak is holding (the embers),” he said.
Handling two fires at once, amid a welter of summer activities across Routt County, has stretched the fire departments thin.
During a trip to the Mill Creek 2 Fire, DeMorat noticed the toll that long hours working in 90-degree temperatures had taken on the firefighters.
“There is still a lot of work to be done out here, and the crew out here is getting spent,” DeMorat told Wisecup over the radio.
With most of the work complete, a Craig Hotshots crew that has been at the Indian Run Fire will transition to battling the Mill Creek 2 Fire on Wednesday morning, according to DeMorat.
With conditions getting drier, he urged the public to be vigilant about wildfire prevention, especially when camping.
“Make sure campfires are attended and put out thoroughly before you leave,” he said.
The causes of both fires have not yet been determined. Wisecup and DeMorat suggested lightning as a possibility.
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