Summit County fire crews on scene to fight northern Colorado wildfire
Firefighters battling the Beaver Creek forest fire in northern Colorado, 15 miles northwest of the town of Walden in Jackson County, are getting a helping hand from Summit.
The large-scale blaze, just 2 miles south of the Wyoming border that, according to The Steamboat Pilot & Today, brought hazy skies to Steamboat Springs early last week, continues to swallow up timber. As of Monday morning, the U.S. Forest Service reported that the wildfire had grown to nearly 6,300 acres, so local departments have been sending support to assist the management efforts.
Both Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and the Copper Mountain Fire Department deployed three-man units to the site, each crew taking with them a heavy-duty, wild land pickup for the operation. The two crews will be on the ground serving the region during two-week assignments.
“This is something that all of the Summit County fire departments try to do when our neighbors are in need,” said Steve Lipsher, Lake Dillon Fire’s public information officer, “and when we have personnel available when our fire danger is such that we feel comfortable with those firefighters gone. It’s invaluable training for our guys and makes them better prepared if we ever have that kind of a fire.”
From Lake Dillon Fire, the team consists of the veteran wildfire crew of Capt. Brian Schenking and fire engineers Kyle Iseminger and Bob Corcoran. Copper Mountain’s group is made up of Assistant Chief Todd Hebebrand, Capt. Ryan Cole and fire engineer Mark Nielsen.
While Lipsher had yet to receive precise reports on what the two teams had been up to since joining up on Monday, June 20, he explained that duty typically consists of daily shifts from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Crews usually arrive on-scene every morning for a briefing over breakfast and receive their assignment for the day entailing one of three responsibilities — structural protection, fire line carving or safety lookout.
The fire on Routt National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands at Independence Mountain was first reported at approximately noon on Sunday, June 19. By Tuesday evening, it had grown from an estimated 800 to 3,800 acres and required mandatory evacuations before surging to about 5,500 acres Friday.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today reported that as of Sunday, about 40 residences or cabins remain at risk of fire damage, and nearly 500 firefighters are now working to combat the Beaver Creek Fire. Although its cause remains under investigation, current projections from officials suggest they may not reach its full containment before early-August. That’s in large part due to the amount of beetle-kill trees and brush acting as abundant fuel, as well as the dry, hot and windy conditions contributing to the wildfire’s strength and reach.
Such a widespread incident acts a good reminder, said Lipsher, of the importance of area residents to be wildfire-ready should anything of the magnitude affect Summit County. And given the region’s similar surroundings as Routt County, one can never be too prepared or careful.
“The topography and vegetation are identical to what we have here,” he said. “Under the right weather conditions, a fire can spread with alarming speed, and, with a little bit of wind, it can be off to the races. Because of that, people should know that if a fire starts, what they have done before the fire in terms of preparation and their reaction to the fire is all really important.”
Creating defensible space around one’s home by cutting back nearby vegetation between 30-and-100 feet from the area is the top recommendation. That includes clearing pine needles and other flammable debris from roofs and gutters in the case that flying embers reach a property. From there, it’s important to have an emergency evacuation kit packed and ready, filled with two-to-three days worth of food, medications, toiletries and pet food, among other necessary items.
He also suggested ensuring adequate property insurance and possessing photo documentation of valuable items that have to be left behind, such as appliances, furniture or artwork. Finally, have digital copies of irreplaceable family photos stored elsewhere — on an internet cloud, in off-site storage, a bank safety deposit box or with a relative.
For a full list of items to stock in a evacuation kit or just general tips on wildfire preparedness, visit Lake Dillon Fire’s website (www.lakedillonfirerescue.org) and click the wildfire link. Each of Summit County’s three fire departments also offer free defensible space home reviews; just call your nearby district to schedule an appointment.
Anyone with information on potential suspicious activity related to the start of the Beaver Creek Fire are strongly encouraged to contact U.S. Forest Officer Hannah Nadeau at (307) 343-2335. Updates on the wildfire are also available at: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4797 and on Twitter at the shared account of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland: @FS_MBRTB.
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