The Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit announced Wednesday night that a lightning-caused fire is burning 44 acres of Bureau of Land Management public land near Elk Springs in Moffat County. The blaze is called the Winter Fire.
Eight smoke jumpers were dropped on the fire and retardant has been used to keep the fire from spreading.
Hot Shot crews from Craig and Tatanka, S.D., and one BLM engine were released Wednesday from the Cedar Fire to assist in containing the Winter Fire.
Fire authorities reported Thursday that the Winter Fire is 70-percent contained.
No structures are threatened and no injuries have been reported.
Officials are unsure when the Winter Fire will be fully contained.
A Moffat County resident who lives near the fire burning this week at Cedar Mountain praised fire crews for saving his home.
“I was definitely concerned the fire would spread and that my home was in danger,” said John Stehle, who lives on Cedar Mountain Avenue. “But, the fire crews did a great job and I thank them for their efforts.”
The Cedar Fire, as named by the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit, began about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday on Bureau of Land Management public land off Moffat County Road 7. The fire burned 71 acres, one outbuilding and one power pole, fire officials reported. There have been no injuries.
As of Thursday night, the fire was 90-percent contained. The fire’s cause is unknown and under investigation.
The fire threatened several homes, including Stehle’s.
He said the blaze came within 100 yards of his home below Cedar Mountain’s south face.
“I usually do a much better job of keeping my yard cleaned up,” Stehle said of the tall grass around his home. “I was worried the fire would cross over and come right into my yard.”
Stehle, a nighttime heavy equipment operator at Colowyo Coal Co., was unaware the fire had started Tuesday. He was asleep when it began.
His friend, Phil Pinnt, first saw the fire. Pinnt works hay fields on Stehle’s property in a crop share agreement. He was baling when the fire broke Tuesday.
“I had just finished a lap,” Pinnt said. “As I was coming around the field, I could see a big cloud of smoke up above John’s house.”
Pinnt first went to check on Stehle. He said waking his friend wasn’t easy.
“I nearly had to put my fist through the window to get in,” Pinnt said.
Once he knew Stehle was OK, Pinnt called 911.
“He’s the one who called 911 first and kept me from turning into a roasted marshmallow,” Stehle said. “I need to thank him for that.”
Stehle said Pinnt called fire authorities at approximately 11 a.m. Within the hour a command center was established near the intersection of Moffat County Road 7 and Cedar Mountain Avenue.
Stehle and Pinnt met first responders at the intersection and directed them to a private road that would provide speedy access to the fire.
Stehle said he was ordered to evacuate his home soon after mobile command and the first wave of firefighters arrived.
Stehle called his wife, Barbara West-Stehle, who works as coordinator for the nonprofit organization Connections 4 Kids. He asked if there were any belongings she wanted him to save.
Her only concern was her family, she said.
“I told him to protect life,” West-Stehle said Thursday. “We knew we could replace everything else, but you can’t replace life. That is what’s most important.”
Stehle shares his land with his mother and sister, who both have homes on the property.
“Luckily, my mom, my sister and my stepson were all in town,” Stehle said.
With no one else to worry about, Stehle said he loaded his dogs into his Nissan Xterra to take them to safety.
He said he continued to monitor the fire and his property. He perched himself on top of a hill across the road from his home and watched firefighters manage the blaze.
“You could tell they were fighting the fire on multiple fronts,” he said. “You could see each division’s priorities.”
For example, Stehle said when Craig Fire/Rescue personnel arrived, they went to work putting out a structure fire; BLM responders circled the blaze to contain it and prevent it from spreading; and a single engine air tanker dropped fire retardant to protect communication towers on top of Cedar Mountain.
“And, they really did a great job because the wind must have changed four or five times right after they arrived,” Pinnt said.
The outbuilding destroyed by the fire belonged to Stehle. It was his father’s old lambing shed, but the building had not been in use.
Stehle said the power pole damaged was on BLM land, but was only a few yards from his home.
“(Yampa Valley Electric Association) sent a crew out to replace it as soon as they discovered it was damaged,” Stehle said. “And, they worked on it while firefighters were trying to contain the fire just a few yards away. It was really impressive.”
The Cedar Fire was the third on Cedar Mountain in Stehle’s 50 years of living next to the public land.
“I think the one a few years back on the north side of the mountain was the worst,” Stehle said. “The previous one on this side was the smallest.”
Investigators were at the fire scene Thursday attempting to learn the cause.
“Investigators will be at the scene again Friday,” said Lynn Barclay, of the BLM. “Once they file their reports, we’ll know what caused the Cedar Fire.”
Barclay said she expects those reports won’t be filed until next week.
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