Wildfire update: Middle Fork Fire forces area closure | SteamboatToday.com

Wildfire update: Middle Fork Fire forces area closure

The U.S. Forest Service has instituted an area closure in the Zirkel Wilderness Area due to the Middle Fork Fire. Three additional firefighting teams have been deployed to help protect any structures that might fall in the fire's path.
Lisa Schlichtman

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Middle Fork Fire burning north of Steamboat Springs has forced a temporary closure within the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area of the Routt National Forest, including a portion of the Continental Divide Trail.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the closure Wednesday afternoon for public safety purposes and to prevent interference with firefighting operations. The fire, first reported on Sunday, grew to more than 3,500 acres by Monday, according to measurements from aerial mapping. It is burning in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area west of Lake Margaret between the Middle and North forks of Mad Creek. 

The closure applies to 10 miles of the popular Continental Divide Trail and the Rainbow Lake, Ditch Creek Swamp Park and Luna Lake trails. Other trails within the closure include the following:

  • No. 1179
  • No. 1118
  • No. 1170
  • No. 1182
  • No. 1184

There are no road or trailhead closures at this time, according to the Forest Service.

Violating the closures could result in a fine of up to $5,000 for a person or $10,000 for an organization and up to six months in jail.

Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

Officials do not have more recent updates on the size of the fire due to inclement weather, according to Maribeth Pecotte, a public affairs officer working for the Forest Service. Fire managers have requested a flyover for later in the day if conditions allow, she added, but it has not been scheduled. 

The blaze, caused by lightning, remains uncontained, according to Pecotte. Ground crews withdrew Tuesday ahead of a major wind and snow storm due to safety concerns.  

The moisture and cooler temperatures should limit further growth of the fire, Pecotte said. Fire managers expect the flames to intensify and spread when warmer, drier weather returns this weekend. 

No structures are directly threatened by the fire at this time, Pecotte said, but that could change if it continues to grow. Firefighters are focusing their efforts on locating structures that could fall within the path of the blaze and developing a strategy to protect them if necessary.

Three new firefighting crews have been deployed to the area, one from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and two from the Forest Service, according to the most recent incident report.

Fire managers are not focusing on directly attacking the fire, Pecotte said. This is primarily because the blaze is in a remote area with hazards such as difficult terrain and a lot of beetle-killed timber.

“If firefighters were to be injured out there, it would be very difficult to get them out safely,” Pecotte explained.

This week’s storms also should stall the growth of other large wildfires burning in the state, but fire managers warn of further spread when warmer temperatures and sunnier skies return for the weekend.

“This is not what we call a season-ending event. We need a series of these to put this thing out,” fire spokesperson Paul Bruggink told the Coloradoan, referring to this week’s storms.

For more information on the Middle Fork Fire, visit inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7153 or follow the updates on the Forest Service’s Twitter, @FS-MBRTB.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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