A landowner clearing grass out of ditches near Hayden in Routt County started a wildfire that burned an estimated 500 acres Wednesday.
West Routt Fire Chief Bryan Rickman said Don Breitinger's agricultural burn got out of control about 2 p.m. and threatened a house and several outbuildings owned by Ivan and Sandy Carns on County Road 74A, about seven miles north of Hayden.
No structures were damaged, but Rickman said the fire burned about 500 acres of grass, sagebrush and cottonwood trees.
Rickman said firefighters had trouble building fire lines because the ground was soft and wet in places.
"There were patches of snow on north-facing slopes, but the stuff that's south-facing has dried up. The wind has dried the stuff on top and made it dry enough to burn," Rickman said. "This is real early for us to already have to be that worried about wildland fires."
The fire was first called in to authorities by a motorist using a cellular phone along U.S. Highway 40. Rickman said he followed the smoke to California Park.
"I was probably within two miles of the fire in California Park, but I couldn't get to it because of snow," Rickman said.
If the man burning the grass from his ditches had let the county communications center know of his plans, Rickman said firefighters could have arrived at the fire about an hour earlier than they did.
"It's critical for people to call communications and let them know where they're burning, so we have an idea where they are," Rickman said.
Firefighters were able to track down the location of the fire after Ivan Carns called authorities when his home and other buildings were threatened.
Nine West Routt firefighters, three county employees and a sheriff's deputy worked for more than four hours Wednesday to contain the blaze by 6:30 p.m.
It was the fourth wildland fire in the west Routt district in the last month. The other three fires were less than 12 acres each.
(Michelle Bales is a reporter for the Steamboat Pilot/Today.)