Middle Fork Fire growth slows as aerial crews continue coordinated drops | SteamboatToday.com

Middle Fork Fire growth slows as aerial crews continue coordinated drops

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Middle Fork Fire burned about 1,000 more acres since Friday morning, bringing the total footprint to just under 17,200 acres.

While the fire grew, the increase about a quarter the size of Friday’s reported increase, a positive sign to those battling the fire.

Though it has continued to grow, Jesse McCarthy, spokesperson for the Middle Fork Fire command, stressed that the “vast majority” of the fire remains in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area and there are no plans to issue any pre-evacuation orders.

“We’re not even considering telling people to get ready,” McCarthy said. “We don’t expect to have any pre-evacuation notices issued today.”

Growth has caused the fire to breach the continental divide, one of two action points crossed setting into motion plans to increase efforts to manage the fire. There are now over 100 firefighters, in addition to several air vehicles working to suppress the blaze. 

Four smaller airtankers called “fire bosses” are scooping water out of Lake John to the northeast and making drops on the eastern and southern flanks of the fire. Boaters are advised to stay off the lake. In addition, five helicopters are focusing on the western parts of the fire. 

Sign up for alerts

Visit routtcountyalerts.com and subscribe to alerts from the Routt County Office of Emergency Management in cases of emergencies or other important notifications.

“Those water drops are coordinated with individuals on the ground. We never just send air assets up alone,” McCarthy said. “There are men and women, on the ground, in equipment and in the air fighting this fire on all flanks.”

The fire remains 0% contained, but McCarthy said that is not a bad sign, rather it has more to do with where the fire is located. Because it is in a rugged wilderness area, there are limitations on what they could do or should do to fight the fire.

“These are those pristine areas that we want to keep for future generations, so we don’t want to go driving a big bulldozer through there,” McCarthy said.

To consider any part of the fire contained, a firefighter would have to be on the ground to declare an area cool and say with confidence that the fire will not cross that line. Doing that while fighting the fire is very difficult, McCarthy said. Typically what happens with wilderness fires like the Middle Fork Fire is a season ending event such as large snowfall that completely extinguishes the fire.

“This is not July or August, this is not California. It’s a different fuel type. It’s a different time of year, so I don’t expect to see fast moving fires,” McCarthy said. “It is still a full suppression fire, and that is why we have so many people engaged, fighting this fire to keep it away from values at risk (such as) people’s homes.”

Routt National Forest is closed along the Zirkel Wilderness boundary east from Buffalo Pass Trailhead and north to Lost Ranger Trail. On the west the closure follows the forest boundary from Red Dirt Trailhead north to the North Fork drainage. To the south the closure follows Red Dirt Trail, Saddle and Saddle Cutoff trails, southeast to Rocky Peak, the intersection of Forest Service Road 314 and Summit Park Trail, southeast to the South Fork Soda Creek Drainage to Buffalo Pass Trailhead. And on the north the closure follows Lost Ranger Trail west, the Continental Divide Trail south to Lost Ranger Peak west to The Dome and down the North Fork drainage.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.