While larger fires see limited activity, local firefighters respond to spark-ups around Routt County
As the Muddy Slide Fire grew in its first days after a lightning strike June 20 sparked it into existence, the blaze burned incredibly close to several buildings along Routt County Road 16.
The eight trailers and an outbuilding at Lynx Pass Ranch that were destroyed in the early hours of June 22 remain the only structures lost to the fire. Another primary residence received minor damage, according to the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
But now the only thing that has grown on the fire is containment, as it remains at the same 4,093 acres it has been mapped at for over a month. The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is now back in control of the fire, and the number of people working it has dropped to just 14. It is 70% contained, as firefighters are patrolling it to find any remaining pockets of heat.
Rain has helped keep fire activity low on North Routt’s Morgan Creek Fire in recent days, but lightning has also required firefighters across the county to respond to small blazes and put them out before having a chance to grow.
Activity has been limited to smoldering on the Morgan Creek Fire, with less creeping where the fire slowly expands its footprint.
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“Creeping indicates an element of movement, while smoldering is more in those heavy fuels that won’t absorb moisture so they’re going to continue to burn,” said Jesse McCarty, public information officer for the fire. “The smolder is really what keeps a fire going for a long time.”
Where rain helps the most is with smaller fuels and grass. McCarty said while rain did slow some firefighting activities, it gave firefighters time to continue to implement their plan.
That plan has seen the fire grow closer to Seedhouse Road and Forest Road 400 in recent weeks, as it has reached an estimated 7,500 acres. This has been done through a series of back-burns that allow firefighters to control the direction it burns, McCarty said.
“A back-burn was implemented in there so that we can control where that fire is going and guide it toward the wilderness, away from any values at risk like people’s homes,” McCarty said.
Much of the activity on the fire is on the northeast side, and crews are expecting a drying trend, which will make conditions more favorable for fire activity to increase.
Crews are using a drone with an infrared mounted camera that flies almost nightly over the fire to measure heat signatures. McCarty said the accuracy of the camera is incredible, allowing it to pick up the smallest of smoldering.
“The technology that the firefighters are using is so much safer,” McCarty said. “We’re flying a machine, and we can buy more machines.”
Typically, firefighters use the back of their hands to sense heat, but McCarty said they have also been using the drone to pinpoint small hot spots for firefighters. This has sped up the process of cleaning up after some the recent controlled burns.
The fire is now 18% contained, but McCarty said the drone could help them expedite the process of increasing containment. Containment is mainly on the west side of the fire, and there is not an estimated containment date at this point.
“This is going to be a long duration fire,” McCarty said. “The trends that we are seeing, at least in the western United States, is that these fires are continuing longer into the season, and I would suspect this would be on the landscape and active well into a season-ending event, likely in the November-December range.”
While both of the larger fires in Routt County have been relatively quiet in the past week, local fire protection districts have been responding to and putting out small wildfires across the county.
With a series of thunderstorms that often lacked rain in the past week, lightning is the apparent cause of several fires that sparked up but were quickly brought under control.
On July 26, the North Routt Fire Protection District put out a small half-acre blaze, dubbed the King Solomon Fire because of its proximity to a creek of the same name, but crews were able to contain it within a few hours.
On Friday, firefighters from both Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue and the West Routt Fire Protection District responded to a new fire between Sleeping Giant and Wolf Mountain.
Crews returned to the fire Monday to do mop-up work with the help of a 20-person hand crew from Juniper Valley, an engine from the Stanislaus National Forest and firefighters from North Routt. The fire, named the Elk Run Fire, reached about 3 acres in size.
Also Friday, the Oak Creek Fire Protection District responded to a fire north of the Muddy Slide Fire area on Routt County Road 16. A cluster of four trees were stuck by lightning — leading to the name Single Tree Fire — but firefighters were quickly able to extinguish them.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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