Smoke, weekend action prove wildfire season has begun
With a wildfire burning in southern Wyoming about 15 miles north of Steamboat Lake as well as area fire crews responding to up to 15 smoke calls on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests last weekend, the local wildfire season is fully in action.
The North Fork Fire, burning in a remote area of Carbon County in Wyoming about 3 miles north of the Colorado state border and 4 miles west of Hog Park Reservoir, was reported Sunday from a lightning strike and was attacked by heavy air support with fire retardant drops by plane and water drops by helicopter, said Aaron Voos, regional U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist. Residents in North Routt County have seen firefighting aircraft flying overhead the past few days. By early Tuesday, a hot shot crew was dispatched to view the fire on the ground and help harden the perimeter, Voos said.
As smoke was visible in Steamboat Springs on a windy Tuesday afternoon, reportedly from large fires in Arizona, a Forest Service Facebook update reported that better mapping put the North Fork Fire size at 12.5 acres.
No closures or evacuations have been ordered because the fire is in a remote area, but the fire officially has 0% containment, Voos said. Although the fire is relatively small and was attacked quickly, it is the first significant wildfire of the season for the Forest Service district, Voos said.
“Two crews have hiked in and engaged with suppression/line construction. Bucket work with helicopters continues,” the Facebook site reported Tuesday afternoon.
“This fire is just an indication that we are into wildfire season, so we need the public to be aware of that and be able to use fire appropriately,” Voos said.
Voos said crews responding to 10 to 15 smoke calls during a weekend would not be ususual three to four weeks later in the summer, but the ramp up this early in the fire season is unusual. He said fire crews “are on high alert right now.”
“It is fairly early in the season to have that many starts, so we definitely want people to be aware of the possibility of fire starting and spreading quickly right now,” Voos said.
The public affairs specialist said campfires are still allowed currently in campgrounds and dispersed camping areas, but fires should be kept small, under control and then put “dead out” before campers go to sleep or leave the site.
Although the region has no fire bans in place at present, local land and fire managers conduct a weekly call Monday afternoons about fire restrictions to review many data points, such as information from weather stations, fuel moisture levels and weather patterns, said Routt County Emergency Management Director David “Mo” DeMorat. He said current indicators are pushing toward a fire ban that may be put in place in the area earlier this summer without more precipitation.
DeMorat continues to encourage all Routt County residents to register their cellphones and emergency contact information to receive emergency alerts through the website RouttCountyAlerts.com. He said about 21% of county residents have signed up so far, although emergency officials hope for 100% participation.
Only landlines from CenturyLink and Comcast are automatically included in the emergency alert system; all other phone numbers including cell phone numbers need to be entered by individual phone customers, DeMorat said.
“It’s important for us to be able to contact everyone in the county when an emergency is happening, because you never know the location the emergency will occur,” DeMorat said.
DeMorat noted lightning tracker systems are showing “a lot more lighting storms, and things are drying up, so there is a very high potential to see more fires due to lighting or human activity.” He said human-caused fires can come from anything from a spark from a welder to a cigarette thrown out a car window to agricultural fires that get out of control due to winds
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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With abnormally low snow levels, most of the snow skiers and snowboarders will encounter Saturday during Steamboat Resort’s Opening Day will be manufactured.