Steamboat Springs firefighters knock down wildfire in Elk River Estates
Steamboat Springs — As he watched firefighters use chainsaws to hack down smoldering brush in his front yard Sunday afternoon, Bill Fetcher acknowledged he would find a new way to dispose of his fireplace ashes.
About three hours after Fetcher poured the smoldering ashes into a small creek, a fire quickly whipped up and Routt County got yet another reminder of this year’s extended fire season.
“This shows me we’re still in extreme drought,” Fetcher said, adding that he has disposed of his ashes in the creek at his property in Elk River Estates for about 26 years without an incident.
Although the creek was dry Sunday, Fetcher said he didn’t think his actions would cause a fire.
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When the ashes flared up and flames started eating through dry vegetation, his neighbors quickly arrived with rakes and water to help. But the flames were more than garden hoses and the volunteers could handle.
Some vehicles on the gravel road above Fetcher’s home stopped as smoke and flames licked the edge of the roadway.
Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue placed all of its firefighting resources on the blaze that they quickly knocked down before it could jump the gravel road and threaten nearby homes.
“The grass is extremely dry. All the other vegetation is really dry. This is what we get when people aren’t being careful with what they burn,” Capt. Scott Hetrick said as fellow firefighters put out the hotspots.
When it initially was reported, the fire was estimated to be burning a 50-by-50-foot area. Hetrick estimated it grew to about 100-by-100. It stayed confined to Fetcher’s property, and it didn’t damage any structures.
Routt County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Doug Scherar said Fetcher isn’t expected to face any charges or be cited for causing Sunday’s fire.
“It just shows how dry we still are,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said at the scene.
He said Sunday’s fire was similar to the agriculture burn that quickly got out of control last month at the base of Sleeping Giant and consumed about 40 acres of vegetation.
Struble said then that property owners should put off all controlled burns until next year because of the dry conditions and a lack of snowfall.
Weather conditions haven’t changed his recommendation. He said Sunday’s fire and the still-burning Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park serve as reminders of the fire danger across the state, even in December.
The Denver Post reported Sunday the Fern Lake Fire, which started Oct. 9 from an illegal backcountry campfire, more than doubled in size overnight Friday and forced the evacuation of 583 homes early Saturday.
Officials were concerned Sunday that high winds would continue to fuel the blaze.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com
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