Steamboat hikers find abandoned burning campfire: ‘I just don’t understand how anybody could do that.’

After three miles of hiking on the Lower Bear Trail, the “disturbing” sight led Buz Cotton and his wife Quincee to cut their hike short Sunday.

“We got down to the (Elk Park) road and you can go to Upper Bear Trail and that is what we were going to do, but I saw a fire burning just off the side of the road,” Buz Cotton said.

The Cottons quickly called 911 to report the incident, but said the dispatcher seemed confused about their location and was not sure if crews would be able to respond.

“Somebody had this big fire the night before and they put large diameter logs on it and they had a big tree and they were burning one end of it and that is what was still on fire,” Cotton added. “It looked like they didn’t make any attempt to put it out.”

For the next hour, Cotton and his wife shuttled water to the fire from a nearby creek using small water bottles to tamper the embers.

“It was really disturbing to us because there was a little squall moving in and the wind was picking up and it wouldn’t have taken much for that to just take off,” Cotton said. “I just don’t understand how anybody could do that.”

The campsite was unremarkable aside from the smoldering campfire and a box of matches with a label depicting a steakhouse located in New Jersey.

Cotton and his wife eventually left the area, but still worried about the damage and about the fact that first responders had not arrived on scene.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Captain Joe Oakland said the department received the initial call from Cotton, and contacted the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Fire Department of Fire Prevention and Control, “but both of those resources were tied up on the fire north of Craig.”

Roughly 17 miles north of Craig, the Iron Fire began Friday and spread to cover 7,361 acres in the area. Officials reported the flames were 30% contained as of Sunday.

Without the availability of the state and federal resources, Oakland said a two-man team travelled to the smoldering campfire using a brush truck, and found a smoldering campfire with heat isolated to one log.

“The log was scraped, and the fire put was cleared and confirmed to be cold,” Oakland wrote in an email. “(Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue) crews dedicated to the incident for two hours during that time.”

Oakland warned the community over unattended campfires, which he said, “can quickly become destructive wildfires that endanger lives, destroy wildlife habitats, and ravage our beloved forests.”

To prevent those disasters, he reminded individuals to always be present when stewarding a campfire, which he said should be kept small and manageable and lit in an area removed of any flammable debris. Oakland also advised on the need to keep water or tools ready to extinguish a campfire if needed and to pay close attention to weather conditions.

“A single spark can lead to a catastrophic wildfire,” Oakland added. “Let’s be responsible stewards of our forests and ensure that future generations can enjoy their beauty as we do.”

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