Summit County records first wildfire of 2019 with small wildland fire in Silverthorne
Wildfire season began in Summit County on Saturday when a small brush fire was sparked by an authorized slash pile burn on private land at the end of Rainbow Drive in Silverthorne, close to the Angler Mountain trailhead.
The fire, though small and quickly extinguished, still reignited concern about wildfire season in Summit, a community freshly scarred from the near-cataclysmic Buffalo Mountain Fire last summer.
Summit Fire & EMS spokesman Steve Lipsher said a local homeowners association, the Blue River Ranch Lakes Homeowner’s Group, had been conducting a slash pile burn on private land at the end of a dirt road extending from the north end of Rainbow Drive. The group had a permit from Summit Fire & EMS to burn slash at that location.
Lipsher said a sudden wind gust lifted embers and flames onto grass and sage on a nearby hillside. Even in April, local vegetation is dry enough to catch fire.
“It’s not all that unusual for us to have early season wildfires like this,” said Summit Fire acting battalion chief Ryan Cole, who served as incident commander. “Just last week, they were down here trying to burn these piles, and they couldn’t even get here because of the snow. It just shows how quickly we’ve gone from an incredible snowpack to wildfire-type conditions.”
The first reports of a brush fire came in at 12:30 p.m. and Silverthorne Police Department officers were dispatched to the scene. They then put out a “wildland first alarm fire” call for nearby fire assets to respond.
Both Summit Fire & EMS and Red, White & Blue fire districts responded to the call, with 20 firefighters and seven fire suppression vehicles sent out to fight the fire. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol also dispatched assets to the scene.
The first firefighters at the scene reported seeing 4- to 5-foot high flames in a quarter-acre patch of ranchland. Firefighters set up a staging area at the Angler Mountain trailhead, and then went about trying to contain the fire, which was actively growing.
At 1:30 p.m. officials announced the fire was contained at a 1/2 acre, with mop-up operations ongoing for several hours to ensure all hotspots were extinguished and not a threat to reignite. The fire never came close to becoming truly dangerous under current conditions, but the prompt response was considered important in preventing it from becoming worse.
Lipsher said that the group conducting the burn was not considered at fault for starting the wildfire, noting that the group had taken necessary precautions including having a method of extinguishment on hand. No citation was issued for starting the fire.
“It was an authorized slash pile being burned, and the wind unexpectedly came up and gusted flames bigger than what people there were prepared for,” Lipsher said. “They had gone through the proper channels and had a permit from us. It was an appropriate day to be burning, the weather was super mild. They weren’t reckless and did all the prudent things that needed to be done.”
Lipsher blamed a “quirky” wind event for the fire, having considered the group’s preparation for the slash fire adequate. He said that the fire district is not currently reconsidering how it issues permits for burn piles, but said it was a good reminder for residents that wildfire season should be considered year-round.
“This isn’t even the earliest wildfire we’ve seen; I’ve seen fires in March, with firefighters shoveling snow from a nearby snow bank to extinguish it,” Lipsher said. “This is a good wake-up call that we can transition from spring to wildfire season in a blink.”
Lipsher advised that residents or companies conducting authorized slash pile burns always have an extinguisher, shovel and water on hand to prevent fires from getting out of control.
The fire happened at an opportune time. Summit County firefighters will begin their annual wildfire-refresher classes and on-the-ground training on Monday and crews already had prepared their wildland engines for just such an early season occurrence.
“This ended up being excellent training for us and should serve as a wake-up call for everyone in Summit County that fire season is here,” Cole said.
Property owners within the Summit Fire & EMS response area are encouraged to prepare for wildfire season by putting together an evacuation kit, documenting all valuables and backing up photos and important documents digitally, and carving out defensible space around their homes that is largely free of burnable vegetation. Free, no-obligation and non-binding wildfire-preparation consultations are available by calling Summit Fire at 970-262-5100.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the national Trout Unlimited group received the funding and to clarify exactly what the money will pay for.