Park County conditions stun firefighters
Summit County firefighters combatting the Snaking fire in Park County and the Topaz Mountain fire in Pike National Forest this week say conditions there are like nothing they’ve ever seen.
“We’re fighting fire at 11,000 to 11,500 feet elevation,” said Jeff Berino, assistant fire chief with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. “It’s the same fuels as in Summit County, it’s very rugged terrain, it’s a very aggressive fire.”
He and another firefighter returned to Summit County late Thursday night to make some minor repairs on the four-wheel drive vehicle they took to the Topaz Mountain fire. They went back to fight the fire Friday morning.
Berino is one of about 19 firefighters sent from Summit County fire departments to help combat the wildland fires that have forced the evacuation of the town of Bailey and nine nearby subdivisions. The Snaking fire started as a one-acre fire on a ridge behind South Platte High School Monday afternoon, and was quickly whipped up by high winds. The fire is believed to have started by one of three students who were seen in the area before the fire was reported. Whether it was intentionally set or not has yet to be determined.
By Tuesday afternoon, the fire had consumed more than 2,000 acres of dry grasses and lodgepole pine forest, prompting Gov. Bill Owens to tour the area and obtain federal assistance. No homes were burned, but two sheds were torched as the fire spread through the area.
The fire grew by 400 acres Thursday, and as of Friday morning, was 35 percent contained. Rain that turned to snow Thursday night – Park County received about 3 inches of snow – should help firefighting efforts. The wind, which reached speeds of 20 mph, has also died down.
“We’re at 11,500 feet, and to not have any snow … I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Berino said. “We’re working our butts off. It’s going to be a long summer.”
Fire conditions throughout the state of Colorado are considered to be extreme due to a below-average snowpack. High winds the past few weeks have also dried out forest fuels – twigs, grasses and fallen trees – further exacerbating the situation. Summit County commissioners put a fire ban in place Wednesday afternoon.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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