Morgan Creek Fire sees first containment over weekend, now at 7%

Crews are again using controlled burns to bolster fire lines near the northwest portion of the fire

Smoke rises from controlled burning operations Saturday morning. The burns are meant to bolster the area east of the fire line in the center of the picture that runs from the fires northeast perimeter to Seedhouse Road. (Courtesy)

The Morgan Creek Fire saw its first containment over the weekend on the west side of the fire’s perimeter. It is 7% contained as of Sunday.

Now at 5,666 acres, crews are once again utilizing controlled burns with the goal of bolstering a robust fire line that has been built from the northwest corner of the fire to near Seedhouse Road. The goal of this line is to prevent the fire from spreading to the west, where there are numerous homes.

“With an indirect strategy on fires, you use the three R’s: ridges, rivers and roads,” said Jay Godson, operations section chief for the Rocky Mountain Black team working the fire.

The indirect fire line ties into a ridge until it crosses the Elk River and connects with Seedhouse Road, which is also known as Routt County Road 64.

A fire line has been constructed from the northeast corner of the fire to Seedhouse Road is meant to prevent the fire from moving back west toward houses and other structures in the area. (Courtesy)

Firefighters have identified several blocks east of the fire line and are burning through them one at a time. The different blocks are defined by the type of fuels in each area, whether that be timber, aspens or grass.

Weather conditions are closely monitored during these burns, and firefighters are very deliberate with where the burns are carried out and when.

The blocks closest to the fire’s current perimeter are primarily made up of timber, and burning operations in those areas took place Saturday. Controlled burns Sunday started getting into the aspen, grass and brush-filled areas.

“The goal is to bring the fire’s edge up to that line, because what that is going to do is, if there is a wind shift or anything like that, it’s going to keep the fire from coming back towards those values at risk along (C.R.) 64,” said Brant Porter, public information officer for the fire.

These burns put a buffer between structures in the area and areas where the fire is slowly burning its way through the myriad of beetle kill and down timber.

“It is really just chunking through that timber and consuming all of those dead, dry fuels that are up there,” Porter said, adding that it would be unlikely the fire would be able to start up again in these burned areas.

Crews utilized controlled burns set off by aerial drops from a helicopter last week, as well, trying to slowly bring the northeast portion of the fire down along the South Fork of the Elk River. Porter said these burns removed bays of unburnt fuels that were surrounded by the fire’s perimeter.

“Now, it is a nice straight line that is coming down from that ridge into that valley bottom,” Porter said.

The Morgan Creek Fire now has 7% containment, with parts of the perimeter that are contained denoted with a black line on this map. All the containment comes on the west side and is expected to grow in the coming days.

Early last week, much of the fire’s growth came from the north center part of the fire, and it has now crossed over the South Fork of the Elk River in a few places. Porter said that isn’t concerning at this time.

Part of the reason the fire line is so broken on that north side is because of the variety of fuels in the area, with the timber burning but other fuels like aspen and grass not taking.

“It’s burning in the timber, but it’s not really carrying in any of the other fuels,” Porter said.

Lightning has been determined as the cause of the fire, according to Inciweb, a site that provides updates on fires across the country. There are 361 individuals working on the fire.

The fire has a current estimated containment day of Sept. 1, though this could vary wildly depending how conditions develop.

The first containment came Saturday on the west side of the fire where crews have been working hard for the past 14 days, and Porter said there are now fire lines all along much of the western side of the fire.

“The difference between having line in place and being able to call it contained is ultimately confidence that there is not any sort of heat or any sort of threat to that line,” Porter said.

These lines have hoses run up them so firefighters can use water in addition to hand tools to break apart smoldering logs and other fuels and let that heat dissipate. Porter said his line, which is in Division Z and Division X of the fire, has taken a lot of time and effort to build but will help increase the fire’s containment.

“We’re going to continue to add some containment to Z and X as the days progress,” Godson said. “They are starting to look really good.”

Morgan Creek Fire at a glance

Location: 15 miles north of Steamboat Springs in North Routt County near the Seedhouse and Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area

Size: 5,666 acres

Fuel: Heavy dead and down timber

Cause: Lightning

Date of ignition: 1 p.m. July 9

Firefighting personnel: 361

Containment: 7%

Source: Inciweb

More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.