Wildfire near Cottonwood Pass quickly contained
A wildfire in the Cottonwood Pass area, just off Grand County Road 55, sent local firefighters scrambling Wednesday evening July 13.
The blaze was put down fairly quickly and suppression efforts kept the fire to a size of 1.7-acres. The fire was sparked late Wednesday afternoon with local firefighting assets being called out shortly after 4 p.m. The Grand Fire Protection District is refereing to the blaze as the 55 Fire.
The 55 Fire occurred on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management on the western side of Mount Chauncey primarily in sagebrush and some aspen thickets. Officials believe the fire was human caused and was sparked by a group of individuals engaging in recreational sport shooting and target practice.
Lieutenant Dan Mayer, Public Information Officer for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO), explained the individuals whose shooting is believed to have sparked the 55 Fire were also the individuals who initially reported the fire.
“They were doing everything safely,” Mayer said. “They were extremely cooperative. It was just a bit of a freak thing. One round may have ricocheted up the hill and sparked it.” According to Mayer the group of shooters also attempted to fight the fire before authorities arrived and pulled them off for safety reasons.
A total of 35 firefighters were on scene battling the blaze Wednesday night. Local assets left the scene shortly after 9 p.m. Officials from the BLM were on scene Thursday morning monitoring the area and mopping up any hot spots. Initial reports estimated the fire at multiple different sizes, ranging as high as seven acres.
Grand Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Brad White explained the confusion was caused by thick wind driven smoke blanketing much of the area’s trees, making it difficult to assess the fires exact size. The terrain of the area made things additionally challenging for local fire agencies. “It was very steep terrain,” said White. “It was one of the steeper ones we have done in a while.”
The 55 Fire is the third wildfire local agencies have responded to this week, including the Jim Creek Fire that occurred Monday near Winter Park. Authorities continue to investigate the Jim Creek Fire, which was technically a series of five separate fires, and are looking into the possibility that someone intentionally started the Jim Creek Fire.
Local authorities have no plans at this time to institute a fire ban for Grand County, though Assistant Chief White said all local agencies will continue to meet every Monday to review the decision. “The Forest Service has scheduled today to go up and check moisture content in the sage,” White said. “We expect that indicator to meet the mark. Things do change though, that is why we set it up to look at it weekly.”
“I think it is important to mention that while we’ve seen an increase in fire starts this week, the spread rates are still fairly low.” White stated. “Most of the fires we’ve seen this week have stayed under 30×30, and many have been on Red Flag warning days.”
White explained local fire agencies review multiple different factors when making decisions regarding a fire ban including probability of ignition and probability of fire spread. When local agencies review their fire ban decision this coming Monday White stated he expects probability of ignition to ignition to be up but probability of fire spread to remain, “fairly stable”.
This summer’s fire season has kept local firefighting assets busy. Personnel from local agencies have assisted with other wildfires in the State of Colorado and have quickly suppressed several fires in Grand County.
Lt. Mayer with the GCSO heaped praise on the local fire departments. “Our fire people up here have been so quick and so active,” said Mayer. “They have gotten some of these little fires contained and out before it turned into a major deal. Yesterday in less then one hour we had 30-something firefighters up on that hill. It has been really impressive to watch how fast they have been getting these fires out.”
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