Deep Creek blaze threatens homes in Routt County |

Deep Creek blaze threatens homes in Routt County

By Tom Ross / Steamboat Today
Smoke and haze were still filling the air surrounding Steamboat Springs Friday as fires continued to burn in Routt County and across the west.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Today

HAYDEN — When the flames from the Deep Creek fire came within 1.5 miles of structures on the north side of the fire, about 22 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs, the night of Sept. 7, Routt County officials put an emergency shelter in Hayden and a Red Cross Management Team on standby.

However, County Emergency Manager David DeMorat stressed those precautions weren’t taken due to a sense of urgency, but rather, because the proximity of the flames reached a trigger point that called for elevated precautions.

“Last night the fire progressed to the northeast, and we had some trigger points in our action plan,” DeMorat said last week. “We weren’t minutes from evacuation.” but, “we sent out a notice on Everbridge (Emergency Notification System), saying ‘Here’s where the fire is.’ We also sent two (sheriff’s) deputies door-to-door. We don’t want anyone panicking; it’s simply that it is getting closer — be prepared, and start thinking about what you want to take and where you want to go.”

The primary shelter in that part of the county is the Hayden High School, but with school in session, DeMorat said, the current designated shelter for the Deep Creek Fire is the community room at The Haven senior living facility on Hayden’s east side.

Fire Team Black spokesman Chris Barth told Steamboat Today they have identified multiple potential evacuation paths for different fire zones, some of which would result in sending people to shelters other than The Haven.

Though the flames had come within a concerning distance of structures in the Deep Creek neighborhood Thursday night, the actual danger, DeMorat said, is mitigated by the fact that the structures are primarily located in large, open grass areas with ample roads and defensive space between the fire and houses.

However, overnight, the the size of the fire increased by about 40 percent, from 2,725 acres to 3,795 acres, and there was ample evidence of the fire’s growth in Steamboat Springs, where the smoke and ash fall increased in the early evening Thursday.

Management Team Black Operations Section Chief Aaron Thompson explained during a briefing Sept. 7 how his firefighters have been working  to create fire lines around structures on the northeast side of the wildfire, in several cases, using bulldozers. At one location, they were working to build a “dozer” line to the east, then curling back to the north and over the top of a ridge to Deep Creek drainage.

Barth said that, often, hand crews follow up the work of the bulldozers and fine tune the edges of the fire break, with their strategies varying with conditions on the ground. On Thursday, he said the bulldozers were used to protect structures “right near or within the fire’s perimeter.”

Houses in harm’s way?

DeMorat added that his office and the county’s GIS department have been refining its estimate of the number of buildings that could be threatened by the blaze as it evolves.

“First, we looked at a 5-mile radius and measured 42 structures with addresses on file with the assessor’s office as being primary residences,” he said. “As it got bigger, when it was about 2,200 acres, we looked at (an area) 3 miles from the perimeter of the fire and moved it down to 26 structures.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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