LIVE UPDATES: Middle Fork Fire explodes to over 3,500 acres by Monday evening; Tuesday snow unlikely to bring much help
9 p.m. update
The Middle Fork Fire has grown to now 3,522 acres. It has reached Luna Lake and is headed toward Mount Ethel. The blaze is currently within one mile of the Continental Divide Trail and has burned over Luna Lake and Fish Hawk trails.
A Forest Service area closure will be put in place Tuesday.
7:40 p.m. update
Routt County officials issued an alert Monday evening as local air quality levels are approaching a point of causing harm to healthy adults when exposed for 24 hours. Those who are sensitive to poor air quality may also experience more serious health effects.
It is advised that people stay indoors if possible. Conditions may be monitored at purpleair.com.
6:30 p.m. update
City of Steamboat Springs officials reported that the fire has increased to about 500 to 700 acres, though Voos said that cannot be confirmed at this point until further aerial mapping.
At 6 p.m. Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft flew over the region and provide a more accurate mapping of the fire area, according to the city.
4:30 p.m. update
While no new acreage can be determined until aerial crews resume mapping of the fire, Voos said the Middle Fork Fire has grown significantly since Monday afternoon.
“It will be larger by far,” he said.
As the Forest Service is getting inundated by rumors, Voos wanted to confirm that while the fire is expanding, it’s not going to spread by miles at this point. He said it’s also mainly spreading east, toward a small system of lakes, and that no evacuations or closures have been put in place.
Voos did caution that anyone in the area of the junction of Lake Luna and Fish Hawk trails should be aware of the fire and probably leave the area.
Ground crews have started to leave the scene and current efforts to battle the blaze are singularly being done with three Type-1 helicopters.
4 p.m. update
The plume from the Middle Fork Fire has grown and is clearly visible from Steamboat.
1:30 p.m. original story
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Aerial mapping conducted Monday showed the Middle Fork Fire burning north of Steamboat Springs had grown to 137 acres overnight, according to fire officials on the scene.
The fire was initially reported as spanning about 15 acres Sunday, according to David “Mo” DeMorat, Routt County’s emergency operations director. The Middle Fork Fire, as it has since been named, is currently burning in the Zirkel Wilderness Area west of Lake Margaret between the Middle and North forks of Mad Creek. It’s about 10 miles north of Steamboat and smoke is visible from the area.
The fire is burning south of the Luna Lake Trail, according to Sean Carey, the assistant fire management officer for Routt National Forest.
Carey said Monday there are structures to the west of the fire, located on private land, but no structures in the fire’s immediate vicinity. The blaze is moving mainly east and slightly north.
Five ground crews are on scene, according to Carey, as well as a heavy helicopter doing bucket work. No mutual aid has been requested so far from local fire protection districts, he said, but they are being kept informed in case they need to be called upon.
While weather forecasts call for an incoming cold front that could bring several inches of snow to the area, Carey said it wouldn’t do much to extinguish the fire.
“It’ll help,” he said. “I don’t foresee it putting the fire out though.”
Aaron Voos, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service covering Routt National Forest, said the fire could again grow ahead of the cold front’s arrival.
“When we first heard of it, it was a couple acres then grew to 137 acres,” Voos said. “(It has) the potential to do the exact same thing today.”
He said winds accompanying the cold front could potentially help grow the blaze.
Once a fire reaches this size, Voos explained, especially in an area where there are rocks, “the fire may die down a bit with moisture and colder temperatures but then carry over and come back to life in the next warming trend.”
Warm temperatures are expected to return after the cold front leaves the area Wednesday or Thursday.
While there are no trail or road closures as of now, Voos recommends people be cognizant of the fire while on any of the nearby trails in the Zirkel Wilderness, especially on the Luna Lake and Fish Hawk trails. Though with the incoming weather, it’s likely most people will be exiting the forest, he said.
The cause of the fire, which is currently at zero containment, is attributed to lightning, according to Carey.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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