Breckenridge wildfire was human-caused, investigators seeking two hikers seen in area | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge wildfire was human-caused, investigators seeking two hikers seen in area

Investigators have determined that the Peak 2 Fire was human-caused and are now seeking the identities of two people seen hiking on the Colorado Trail above Miners Creek Road junction at around 11 a.m. on July 5.

"After fire conditions moderated and it was safe to enter the area, fire investigators examined the point of origin and determined the Peak 2 Fire was human-caused," acting Dillon District Ranger Kevin Warner said in a Tuesday afternoon news release. "This information is important in helping us determine the cause of the Peak 2 Fire. We appreciate any information the public can provide about these individuals."

Reached by phone, Warner said he could not provide any additional detail due to the sensitive nature of the open investigation. He said that all ignition possibilities other than human activity had been ruled out.

Officials urge members of the public with information that might help identify the two individuals to call (970) 262-3486 and leave a message with their name, return phone number and a brief summary of the information they can provide.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons declined to comment on what the individuals might be charged with if they were found to have started the fire, saying that would depend on many different factors that are still unknown.

The Peak 2 fire started on July 5 about two miles north of Breckenridge, quickly growing to 84 acres and prompting a two-day evacuation of more than 450 homes in the Peak 7 area.

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More than 400 firefighters fought the blaze at its peak. It is now 85 percent contained and not expected to spread further. So far, officials estimate the response has cost around $2 million and counting.

Fire operations have drawn down significantly in recent days, with many first responders being transferred to higher-priority fires.

At 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team gave command of the fire back to the U.S Forest Service, a handoff that marks a transition from fire suppression to monitoring.

Fifteen percent of the fire's perimeter on its west flank remains unlined due to steep, heavily timbered terrain that's too dangerous for firefighters to work in. Officials say their models indicate the fire has a less than 0.2 percent chance of spreading, even with that section unlined.

Although it is very unlikely to grow, the fire could continue to smolder and send up smoke for weeks or even months. Several nearby trails including the popular Peaks Trail and section seven of the Colorado Trail remain closed, although the Wheeler Trail has re-opened.

A Forest Service spokesman said that the closures would be re-evaluated on a day-to-day basis but would likely remain in place through the weekend.

The fire footprint is directly on top of the Miners Creek Trail and Colorado Trail, meaning those are likely to remain closed the longest.

Federal, county and municipal-level fire restrictions will also remain in place until fire danger abates.

From 5 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, fire officials will host a final open-house style public meeting at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge.

Officials will be on hand to answer questions from attendees for an hour before giving a briefing on future plans for monitoring the fire.

On Tuesday, crews cut two miles of contingency lines, which are safe areas from which firefighters could battle a resurgent blaze. Those firebreaks could also be used for future fires, a lasting legacy and silver lining of sorts to the Peak 2 Fire.

"This fire ended up not being that big, but there's still lots of fuel in there and these contingency lines will last for years beyond the life of this fire," said Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team spokesman David Boyd.

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