Wildfire update: Storm halts firefighting crews response to Middle Fork Fire | SteamboatToday.com

Wildfire update: Storm halts firefighting crews response to Middle Fork Fire

A Coulson-Unical CH-47 Chinook helicopter flies past smoke and the pyrocumulus clouds that accompany wildfires during its return flight to the Steamboat Springs Airport on Monday afternoon. The helicopter was helping to fight the Middle Fork Fire, which is burning north of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Tuesday storm complicated firefighting efforts at the Middle Fork Fire currently burning north of Steamboat Springs.

Inclement weather halted the use of helicopters that were working to extinguish the flames Monday, according to Aaron Voos, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service covering Routt National Forest. Ground crews also have hiked out of the area. It is unclear when firefighting efforts will resume.

The first reports of the fire came Sunday, with flames initially spanning about 15 acres. Officials believe lightning sparked the fire.

By Monday evening, the blaze had grown to more than 3,500 acres, according to measurements from aerial mapping. It was burning in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area west of Lake Margaret between the Middle and North forks of Mad Creek. 

Due to thick smoke, those measurements might not be entirely accurate, Voos acknowledged. Tuesday’s storm prevented officials from getting more recent updates on the size of the fire.

“Hopefully, by the time the weather clears, we will have a better idea of what the fire perimeter looks like,” Voos said.

According to the latest update, the fire had reached Luna Lake by Monday evening and headed toward Mount Ethel. It has burned over the Luna Lake and Fish Hawk trails. Flames were within one mile of the Continental Divide Trail.

There are no mandatory closures or evacuations in the area, according to Voos, but the Forest Service is encouraging people to avoid the area of the fire and the nearby trails in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

There currently are no structures in the immediate vicinity of the blaze, Voos added. 

Future firefighting efforts will depend on the size of the fire after the storm and availability of resources, Voos said. Other large fires burning across the state could stretch resources thin in the coming days.

For example, the Cameron Peak Fire tripled in size over the weekend, fueled by record-high temperatures and relatively low humidity. Officials expect snowfall and colder weather to dampen its spread.

Moisture and lower temperatures from the storm should temporarily slow the spread of the Middle Creek Fire, Voos added. But if dry conditions return, fire commanders expect the flames to return and grow.

Snow and rain are expected to continue through Thursday, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, followed by a return to dry, warmer weather.

A wind advisory is in effect until 6 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Weather Service, with gusts of up to 60 mph. Throughout the day on Tuesday, high winds blew away unsecured objects and toppled trees and tree limbs. 

A freeze warning remains in effect from midnight until 10 a.m. Wednesday, with temperatures expected to drop as low as 18 degrees, according to the Weather Service.

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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