Small fire at Eaglesmere Lakes snuffed out by Forest Service | SummitDaily.com

Small fire at Eaglesmere Lakes snuffed out by Forest Service

Dillon Ranger District mountain sports administrator Sam Massman helps to stamp out an escaped campfire up Tiger Road in Breckenridge in August. A similar fire took off and had to be contained at the south shore of the highest lake at Eaglesmere Lakes near Heeney on Monday, Sept. 26.

A small, 1⁄10-acre fire on the Dillon Ranger District at Eaglesmere Lakes north of Silverthorne first reported on Sunday night, Sept. 25, was contained and put out by a U.S. Forest Service crew Monday afternoon.

The human-triggered blaze near Heeney first had to be located by the three-man unit, which had to hike about an hour and a half from Cataract Lakes to reach it. They arrived to the smoldering site at approximately 11 a.m. on Monday and had it under control by 3 p.m. and completely out an hour later.

The 10-by-20-foot fire started after escaping a nearby campfire ring when it burned underneath deep into the duff layer on the south shore of the highest lake at Eaglesmere. The crew used 5-to-10-gallon water bladder bags and a collapsible bucket to transfer water from the lake to the fire area, as well as a Pulaski axe and 90-degree shovel they carried to the location to stir up the soil and extinguish the flames.

A passerby called in the fire at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and personnel from the White River National Forest made the decision to call off Lake Dillon Fire Rescue wildland engines that evening and wait until Monday to hike in. Dillon District ranger Bill Jackson said this isn't uncommon on Forest Service lands when such incidents occur late into the evening nearing dusk or are difficult to get to due to the topography of the area. This situation had both.

This course of action also grants fire fighters a chance to plan appropriately, get a good night's rest and head to the reported site early the next day. In addition, temperatures in the mountains tend to drop overnight to around 30 degrees this time of year, typically creating low fire activity and less concern it may grow dramatically.

Luckily for the crew, the campfire was not started near ignitable timber or creep into a heavy fuels area. Had it done so, the fire could have spread and produced a fire of consequence for the area.

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But the fire is a good reminder to all campers of some general guidelines related to campfires. Even with late-fall and early-winter camping — low fire danger segments of the year — wildfires are still possible.

First off, build the fire within an established campfire ring that has been scrapped down to mineral soil, rather than over pine needles, dried vegetation or a tree root. Fires can easily spread below the rock walls if built atop these combustible materials.

Next, maintain the fire at a small, manageable size, defined as 3 feet or less in diameter and no more than the same in height for flame length. Ignoring this rule of thumb can send embers into the forest if the wind picks up and generate an adjacent wildfire.

"It shouldn't be a big, old crackling bonfire that's shooting sparks all over the place," explained Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire Rescue. "And we certainly recommend having a way of extinguishing the campfire with you the whole time — a bucket of water or a shovel at the very least, right next to the campfire."

Additionally, never leave a campfire unattended, as in don't go to sleep, for a hike or hunting while it's still burning. It needs to be fully out before heading elsewhere, meaning previously ignited materials should be cool to the touch. A recommended method for reaching this temperature is to douse your campfire with water, stir it, and then douse it again. Repeat as necessary.

The Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness group has noticed an increased number of campfire rings in wilderness areas where they had not been previously. The volunteer organization, in collaboration with the White River National Forest, requests that individuals first ask themselves if they really need a campfire in the first place, and if so, to head to a site that's already suitable for camping rather than creating a new one. This low-impact technique maintains endorsed leave-no-trace principles, and prevents further disruptions to the region's wildlife.

Jackson also reiterated that camping and campfires are not allowed within 1/4-mile of all lakes. This regulation remains in effect year-round so as to prevent impacts to the area's ecological function, be it wildlife or water quality. And if within these standards, always clean up your trash, and never incinerate items like aluminum that will not burn.

With the Eaglesmere fire stamped out, the three-man Forest Service crew hiked back out and headed home. Quickly eliminating the potential threat removed the need to return the next day, and the fire unit arrived back to the Dillon Ranger District station in Silverthorne around 6:30 p.m.

"Good deal," said Jackson, "we don't have to go back in."