Firefighters, residents work to save communities from Silver Creek Fire
September 17, 2018
LAKE AGNES — The Lake Agnes community, currently under a pre-evacuation notice, sits in a secluded enclave with remarkable views of the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass.
There are two miles of shoreline with multi-million-dollar homes on 19 lots. The gated community is about 35 miles from Steamboat Springs.
Some residents have heeded the warning and left, leaving it up to firefighters to protect their homes from the Silver Creek Fire, which is located just a couple of miles southwest from their neighborhood. Other residents have already packed up for the summer and left independently of the pre-evacuation notice.
The Howard family from Loveland are now the only residents there, and on Monday, Andy and his daughter Emma were in the side yard de-limbing trees with axes.
"We're just limbing up these trees, so if the fire comes, then it easily can't get up the trees," Andy said. "We're doing what the firefighters have recommended."
On Monday, the Silver Creek Fire had grown to 11,718 acres. It was started by lightning and discovered July 19.
The fire blew up Wednesday and quickly doubled in size.
"The mood is really optimistic," Andy said. "Everyone has been impressed and appreciative of what the firefighters have done."
At Lake Agnes, sprinklers have been set up around houses. If the fire gets close, firefighters will turn on the sprinklers and leave when it is no longer safe to be there.
The sprinklers wet the ground but also raise the humidity in the area, making it more difficult for the fire to spread.
Similar methods have been used at the Old Park and Latigo Guest Ranch at Gore Pass.
Lake Agnes residents knew they lived where fire danger was high.
"It's one of those things you have to accept in this area," Andy said.
Over the years, the community has thinned out trees and created defensible space around their homes. They have also taken other precautions.
Every couple of hundred yards along the road that circles the lake, there is a shovel and a fire extinguisher attached to a tree.
Bill Ross, a former U.S. Forest Service employee has been giving the community advice over the years.
"He's been highly instrumental in helping us," Andy said.
The Silver Creek Fire is now being managed by the Rocky Mountain Blue Team incident management team.
It is the second time the team has done a 14-day assignment on the fire.
For the first time since Wednesday, there was not huge columns of smoke visible from Steamboat, thanks to higher humidity and cloud cover.
"We don't want it to become one of those days," said Brian Ayers, who is the safety officer for the incident management team.
Ayers explained why they were not successful in containing the fire the first time they were assigned to fight it.
Firefighters often rely on the strategy of connecting roads and natural features with containment lines and then burning the fuels between the fire and the perimeter by dropping ping-pong balls from a helicopter. The balls are filled with chemicals that produce fire when activated.
"We wanted to burn out, but it rained," Ayers said of the last time they were there.
The monsoonal moisture this summer has been sporadic, he said, and has made it difficult to fight fires in the state.
"This has happened more than once this summer," said Ayers, who lives in Gunnison. "This is my eighth fire of the year, and they've all been in Colorado, which is unusual."
This time, the team is dealing with other challenges. On Monday, passing storms were producing little rain with very sporadic winds.
"We want more of a controlled environment," Ayers said.
The incident command post along U.S. Highway 40 west of Kremmling looks like a mobile military operation, with tents, mess tents, portable toilets, mobile showers and a supply area.
"Please pay attention to our work zone," Ayers said.
As for whether or not U.S. 40 might be closed, Ayers said he does not think it will occur because of fire.
"Smoke is my biggest concern right now," Ayers said.