Friday, September 20, 2019

Lightning ignites fire outside town of Pitkin

Has grown to 50+ acres; private land and structures not in danger

By Alissa Johnson

Just one week after a wildfire ignited in Cement Creek, a second wildfire broke out in Gunnison County. The Rosebud fire is burning southwest of the town of Pitkin and northeast of Ohio City. As of Wednesday, it had grown to 50 to 55 acres in size. Firefighters were aggressively fighting the blaze and the incident commander estimated that it was 20 percent contained.

According to Lee Ann Loupe, public affairs officer with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, lightning started the fire on Sunday, June 26, in lodgepole pine with heavy downed timber. Like the Cement Creek fire, it is burning in steep, difficult to access terrain.

Loupe said that no private lands or structures are threatened at this time. As a precautionary measure, however, the Forest Service and Gunnison County issued a pre-evacuation notice on Tuesday for the areas of Pitkin and Ohio City because the Rosebud fire had grown over the previous 24 hours.

“This is only a pre-evacuation notice. Residents in the affected area should begin preparing to evacuate, and be ready to do so on short notice.

Residents needing to move livestock or other large assets are recommended to do so now,” the notice read.

A Type III interagency Incident Command Team took leadership of fire management on Tuesday morning and has experience managing more complex fires. A full suppression strategy is in place, including the use of airtankers to drop retardant and four helicopters to drop water with the goal of cooling the fire and slowing its spread.

In addition, three firefighter crews were on the fireline, clearing dense, heavy vegetation and constructing what’s known as a handline around the fire to help contain it. Approximately 25 percent of the fire had hand line around it as of Wednesday, and the fire was 20 percent contained.

“Continued aircraft operations yesterday (June 28) slowed the spread of the fire, accompanied by higher humidity and cooler temperatures. In the evening, two crews of firefighters were able to access the fire and worked to establish an anchor point from which to begin constructing fireline,” a Forest Service press release read.

The agency also hosted an informational meeting in Pitkin on Tuesday, and about 175 to 200 landowners and citizens attended.

According to Loupe, Gunnison County Emergency Services will notify landowners if it becomes necessary to evacuate private lands. Phone numbers for landlines are automatically included in the emergency notification system, which is called Code Red.

Cell and VOIP (Voice Over IP) numbers must be registered to the Gunnison County at web page (under Government, click on Emergency Management, and then click on the Code Red icon).

As Loupe indicated, private lands and structures were not in danger, but she said, “I’ve had some landowners concerned and wanting to know, if that were to be, how they would be notified.”

The Forest Service press release also noted that smoke from the fire is highly visible. The agency was asking that the public refrain from stopping to watch the fire, and told them they should not fly drones in the area.

“When drones fly, aerial resources cannot and this can result in affecting the ability to contain and control fire, as well as cause accidents, injury and even death for aerial and firefighter resources,” the statement read.

The Cement Creek fire is contained and controlled, and according to Loupe, the Forest Service continues to monitor it. There is no confirmed source of that fire.

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