As Summit County firefighters deploy to battle a wildfire in a nearby county, officials remind residents to be prepared for wildfire threats at home

With 2 crews from Summit County joining the fight, the Spring Creek Fire in Garfield County has burned more than 3,000 acres as of Tuesday afternoon

Tony Marzo/Summit Fire & EMS
Firefighters gaze on the Spring Creek Fire burning in Garfield County. After igniting in June, this firefighters continued to battle this blaze for days into July 2023, which saw record-breaking heat along Colorado's Western Slope.
Tony Marzo/Summit Fire & EMS

As the Spring Creek Fire blazed to life over the past week about 100 miles west of Summit County near Parachute, local firefighting agencies have sent crews to assist in battling the flames.

Both Summit Fire & EMS and Red, White & Blue have sent a three-member engine crew to help battle the Garfield County blaze. The first local member, a Summit Fire & EMS fire medic, arrived to help Sunday.

“This allows us to help our neighbors. That is our main mission,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lispher said. “But also our firefighters are getting real-world experience out there, which they can bring back to our district to their workmates to be better prepared for when we’re going to be the ones under the gun.”

The fire was first reported around 2 p.m. Saturday, June 24, according to reporting by the Post-Independent. The Grand Valley Fire Protection District maintained a perimeter around the fire that contained it to less than 215 acres well into Monday.

However by Tuesday, the rugged topography, natural fuels and unrelenting wind gusts in the area had caused the wildfire to spread to 3,000 acres.

Dough Lesch, a wildland operations specialist with Summit Fire & EMS, said the conditions in Parachute are more desert-like than in Summit County but the local area experienced similar strong winds Tuesday.

“They’re going to be seeing rapid fire growth and at times some extreme fire behavior with the wind, fuel and topography combined,” Lesch said. “Each of those can be a factor in the fire’s growth and when the three align it creates a situation like what we saw (Monday), where the fire moves quickly and with a lot of intensity across the landscape.”

Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
A gust of wind reignited the Spring Creek Fire on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

If they cannot battle the flames from the edge of the fire due to its intensity, firefighters on scene in Garfield County — including those from Summit County — are expected to work to protect homes and infrastructure, Lesch added.

The three-person crew and medic from Summit Fire & EMS are expected to be deployed in Garfield County for several days, Lipsher said. The federal government covers the costs for the deployment of these firefighters and their equipment, as well as the cost of filling the shifts they miss back home, he added. The fire protection districts ensure enough first responders are available at home before deploying troops elsewhere. 

“It’s through this amalgamation of both local, federal and also state resources that we are able to build a team that can take on these big fires like what we’re experiencing in Parachute,” Lipsher said.

On Monday, Summit County officials alerted residents that smoke from the Spring Creek fire may be observed locally and asked them not to call 911 to report it. 

While fire danger in Summit County remained low as of Tuesday, Lispher noted that the blaze burning just less than two hours down Interstate 70 should serve as a reminder that wildfires remain a present risk locally.

A rainy spring has led to wet conditions across Summit County but could become something of a “double-edge sword” because it has fueled vegetation growth as the county heads into a warmer, drier and windier stretch, Lispher said.

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“This smoke should be a good reminder for all of us in Summit County that we need to be preparing our properties for the possibility of a wildfire now,” Lispher said.

With recent rain spurring vegetation growth, Lipsher said he mowed the lawn around his home this weekend, turned on hoses and sprinklers, and moved the firewood that had been on the doorstep all winter further away from the house. He recommends other residents take similar steps to reduce potential fuels in the vicinity of their homes.

Homeowners should cut weeds and tall grass within a 5-foot circumference of their house, deck and fences, Lipsher said, and mow grasses and remove dead branches near the ground within 30 feet of the home.

“If you can keep flames either nonexistent or to a minimum, 1-inch-high flame lengths, you’re dramatically increasing your home’s chances of surviving an encroaching wildfire,” Lipsher said. 

Tony Marzo/Summit Fire & EMS
A Summit Fire & EMS vehicle on scene at the wildfire in Garfield County that by Tuesday, June 27, 2023, had grown to encompass about 3,000 acres.
Tony Marzo/Summit Fire & EMS

Summit County residents should also be prepared with an evacuation kit in their vehicle throughout the wildfire season in case a rapidly developing emergency prevents them from returning home, Lispher added. 

The kit should contain everything a family needs to be away from home comfortably for two to three days, he said, such as a change of clothes, toiletries, daily medications, cash, a phone charger, food and water. Plans should also include contingencies for pets in case a homeowner can’t get home during an evacuation.

Regardless of the time of year, those living in and visiting Summit County should be safe and responsible with fires in their backyard or in the backcountry, Lesch noted. That means never leaving a fire unattended and ensuring that campfires are completely out, with ashes cold and wet to the touch, he said.

“People should practice those all the time so that when conditions are extreme enough where those embers could ignite a fire that is substantial, people don’t have to change their mindsets,” Lesch said.

Residents should also be signed up for emergency alerts from the Summit County government to stay in the know if evacuations or other emergency measures are underway. Lesch noted that in an emergency situation, having information will empower residents to make safe decisions.

“The more information that people have available to them now, even in the worst case scenario it’s less stressful because they know where to go and what to do,” he said.

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