The Mount Powell Ranch wildfire, which ignited Monday, May 5, and burned about 3 acres of shrubs and dead standing aspens on private land off Colorado Highway 9 north of Silverthorne, is fully contained.
A break from high winds helped firefighters knock down and get the fire mostly under control by Monday night. Fire crews returned to the scene Tuesday to perform mop-up operations, Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, said. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the fire was 100 percent contained, but not yet completely extinguished.
“It was a pretty dirty fire in the sense that there was a lot of tangled underbrush,” Lipsher said. “There was a lot of vegetation within the fire line that wasn’t completely burned.”
Traditionally, once a fire is contained firefighters will monitor it to allow vegetation within the fire line to completely burn out, Lipsher said. In cases when there is unburned vegetation, firefighters have to burn those sections out themselves to reduce the chances of the fire reigniting.
“We don’t want unburned vegetation to ignite from things like blowing embers,” Lipsher said. “It’s a pretty arduous job because you have to make sure every single ember is fully extinguished.”
According to preliminary investigations, Lipsher said firefighters think the fire was caused by a tree that fell and snapped a power line, which is becoming a growing concern in Colorado since the pine beetle epidemic.
“The utility companies recognize the danger and are trying to mitigate the problem in more high-risk areas, but it’s pretty much an endless task at this point,” Lipsher said.
The Mount Powell Ranch wildfire ignited at about 4:15 p.m. Monday and attracted responding firefighters from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District, Copper Mountain Fire Department, the High Country Training Center and the U.S. Forest Service. Deputies from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, troopers from the Colorado State Patrol and employees of the Colorado Department of Transportation also responded to the blaze.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor said Monday’s wildfire confirmed two things, the first being the positive working relationship among public safety agencies in Summit County.
“Cool thing about our community is what you saw yesterday if you were out at that fire,” Minor said. “Unlike some counties, there are no turf wars here in Summit. Everyone from the chiefs and fire marshals down to officers and firefighters all work well together and are all about doing the right thing for the community every single time.”
On a somewhat less positive note, Minor said Monday’s fire also served as a reminder that despite record snowpack, Summit County likely will not navigate through the wildfire season unscathed.
However, Minor said, county agencies are prepared for wildfires and always begin their planning a season ahead. In other words, during the winter, public safety officials begin talking about and planning for flood season.
In the spring, when officials are ready for flooding, they start planning for wildfires. In the summer, they start talking about winter issues.
“There’s a simple philosophy we live by in Summit County,” Minor said. “If you fail to train, you’re training to fail. It doesn’t matter what agency you are talking about, training is a priority in this community.”
The hallmark of that training will take place May 30 and 31 when public safety officers participate in a countywide wildfire exercise.
But Minor also said wildfire preparedness doesn’t fall solely on first responders. Residents need to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, if necessary.
“Cops and firefighters can’t do this alone,” Minor said. “From a cop’s perspective, we really specialize in getting people out of the way — it’s the hose draggers that do God’s work, but people need to be ready to leave when we tell them to.”
Minor recommends that residents develop a personal wildfire action plan, also known as the “Ready, Set, Go!” program. A brochure with tips and emergency checklists can be found online at www.colofirechiefs .org.
The Ready, Set, Go! program also talks about the importance of defensible space, not just for protecting individual homes, but entire communities.
“The only thing that stops a fire during a high-wind event is defensible space,” Minor said, citing devastating fires in 2012 and 2013 in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. “We get those 50-mile-per-hour winds up here in Summit County and if it’s blowing while we have a fire, we can’t fly tankers and there’s not a thing we can do about it except dig in and try to hold an anchor.
“If you looked at aerial photos of Colorado Springs you could see not only where defensible space saved homes, but also large sections of the community. Defensible space is the name of the game.”