At the scene: Firefighters reckon with growing Silver Creek Fire as it approaches Latigo Ranch, Old Park (with video)
Deep in Routt National Forest, down Forest Service Road 100, smoke fills the air and flames burn hot on a steady stream of dead lodgepole pine trees. The Silver Creek Fire has been burning for less than 20 days but has already become a force to be reckoned with, crossing into Grand County last week.
The Silver Creek Fire, burning in a remote section of Routt and Grand counties nearly 10 miles north of Gore Pass, isn’t the typical all-encompassing fire front, it’s instead a series of spot fires that span over 2,000 acres and can burn erratically depending on weather and terrain conditions.
Currently, even though not all 2,061 acres are aflame, only 5 percent of the fire perimeter is contained on the northern side of the fire. A lightning strike ignited the fire on July 19 in Routt County and then it spread through Routt and Arapahoe National Forests.
“The rains really helped us get our crews in and work,” said Jackie Parks, information officer for the Silver Creek Fire. “Containment is kind of an accumulation of the work until the incident commander is assured the fire will not move past that line.”
The conditions of both the fire and the terrain make it a difficult one to fight, even for a crew of 164 people, six engines and three helicopters. Particularly, crews have to worry about the steepness of the slopes, the abundance of dead and weak lodgepole pines and the unpredictable nature of the fire, which can jump from location to location creating new burn areas.
“We empower all of our folks to be a lookout, but we will actually put someone at a high point and they’ll watch over their crew or their piece of the fire and give them information based on what they’re seeing,” said Flavio Gallegos, incident command type three trainee. “We’re all looking for that smoke where it doesn’t belong.”
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Since safety is key, helicopters are used over the areas where the fire burns on terrain too steep to reach by foot. So far, over 250,000 gallons of water have been dropped on the Silver Creek Fire.
Though crews are spread all along the eastern edge of the fire, officials have focused crews and resources on its southeast point because if it were to spread in that direction it would run into structures such as Latigo Ranch, one of Grand County’s premier dude ranches and cross-country skiing meccas, four miles away and Old Park, an unincorporated community about 12 miles northwest of Kremmling, about six miles from the fire. Officials are also concerned with keeping the blaze away from grazing lands.
“For this fire in this place, our values at risk are private property and grazing lands and the cattle on them,” Parks said.
But at this point, there hasn’t been any evacuations or structure protection related to this fire.
Recent rains helped slow the fire enough for crews to put in hoselay and prepare indirect lines, which require either a bulldozer or man power to clear a line through the forest and remove any vegetation that would allow the fire to spread. According to Rod Skalsky, chief of operations for the Silver Creek Fire, the most effective way to combat this fire is by taking away its fuel.
However, the weather can also be a detriment to firefighting efforts because with rain comes wind and lightning. Gusty winds can push the fire to new areas and lightning can start new spot fires, while hotter and drier conditions can cause previously burned areas to relight.
“In the fire area, there’s lots and lots of trees and grass that didn’t burn when it came through because the wind pushed it fast and so we expect that a lot of that will burn when it gets hotter and drier,” Parks said. “You have to expect everything when you’re working with a force of nature.”
As far as air conditions go, most of the haze comes from fires burning in other states. Parks said smoke in the area can also be deceiving because the weather affects smoke dispersal.
In an effort to be prepared for any developments at all times, the fire crew stays on a base camp in a sort of tent city. The crew is made up of firefighters from around the country who work 14 days at the site at a time.
“We come together for this common purpose on this particular fire and when we leave we will scatter to all corners again,” Parks said.
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