Small fire in eastern Rio Blanco County controlled quickly
West Routt Fire responded because firefighters in Meeker were blocked by snow
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Roads still covered in snow prevented firefighters from Meeker responding to a small blaze in eastern Rio Blanco County on Sunday, May 1, so the request then fell to firefighters in Routt County.
West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Trevor Guire said his team responded to what was a roughly five-acre fire that started when an agricultural burn got out of control of the landowner.
“It was an open burn that got away from the party,” Guire said. “About five acres, controlled fairly quickly. It was all hand work in steep terrain.”
The fire was off of Rio Blanco County Road 19, which is what Routt County Road 55 is called when it crosses over the county line. The blaze was on private land, but was close to U.S. Forest Service land around the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
To get there, Guire said the most direct route for firefighters from the Rio Blanco Fire Protection District would have been over Ripple Creek Pass on Rio Blanco County Road 8. This roadway is typically still covered in snow until June, Guire said.
Eventually one engine from Rio Blanco County did arrive, taking a much longer route around to the north, Guire said.
There have been a number of these smaller fires in recent weeks, including a grass fire near the Whitecotton Lane south of Steamboat Springs off county road 35 on April 27. A resident near that fire said they didn’t realize last year’s grass could ignite so fast.
“What we’re facing right now is that we’re just before green up,” Guire said. “It is right before those fuels actually actively start growing, so they are very susceptible to fire.”
Now is also the time of year that ranchers are doing agricultural burns in pastures that clean up areas like fence lines and ditches where there is overgrown grass from last season.
Guire projected that most areas would start to green up in a few weeks, which should help keep fire danger lower. He anticipated that by June, things would again dry out and ranchers would stop any agricultural burning.
June is also when fire officials anticipate starting weekly meetings to assess the regional fire danger and whether fire restrictions need to be put in place. Last year, such restrictions went in place on June 16.
That’s also when larger fires started burning in Northwest Colorado last year as well, with the Collom, Oil Springs and Muddy Slide fires all starting between June 15 and 18.
Guire encouraged anyone doing an agricultural burn to call it into Routt County Dispatch beforehand to give fire officials a heads up.
“Everybody is trying to do it right now,” Guire said, of agricultural burning. “There’s a bit of a fear that, like last year, they won’t be able to get some of it done.”
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