Friday, December 4, 2020

Fast response kept fire up Kebler Pass in check despite heavy winds

Winds could have had bad impact, cause still not determined

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

The wildfire that started on Wednesday, October 14 near Lost Lake and West Beckwith was quickly contained despite it being a windy day. Wildfires are not normal this time of year but given the dry conditions and drought, fire danger will likely remain until significant moisture occurs.

Crested Butte Fire Protection District fire chief Rob Weisbaum said the fire was called into the Montrose Interagency, which then called CBFPD for mutual aid as there were no resources available at the time. The fire was on U.S. Forest Service land and in the Ragged Mountain Fire District.

“The fire was approximately a quarter acre and the reporting party called in the fire reporting 100-foot flames,” said Weisbaum. “To the north and west are 21 cabins approximately a half-mile from the fire. Winds were favorable. Containment was made, then the winds shifted. Since containment was in place, the fire did not spread despite the wind shift.”

Crews from several districts responded to the scene. Weisbaum tallied five CBFPD personnel in the field with another five also ready to backfill for coverage if needed; a Type 6 fire engine; a district vehicle with a Wildland trailer and a Tender 1 fire engine. Gunnison Fire sent five personnel with a Type 6 engine and two additional type engines (Tenders). Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office sent officers. Rifle Helitac flew an hour of bucket drops from a helicopter. The USFS provided a single-seat plane that dropped four loads of fire retardant and Paonia and the Ragged Mountain department sent two Type 6 engines, two UTVs with rapid attack capability and seven personnel.

Weisbaum said quick recognition and a solid attack probably prevented a bigger fire. “Crews hiked to the fire location and dug lines around it for containment,” he explained. “Aircraft supported the crews by dropping water and slurry on the fire and surrounding areas. Standing dead aspens and dry spruce trees are located in that area; however there are also lots of conifers in the area, which likely helped limit the spread of fire. Per the USFS, fire behavior was not impressive, which is a good thing. We did have a wind advisory that day so our tender trucks set up porta-tanks for the helicopter operations.”

The fall weather normally brings cooler temperatures and moisture. Not so much this year. “Normally our danger would be decreasing this time of year,” said Weisbaum. “We are in extreme to exceptional drought conditions. Warmer temps still persist and adding in the drought conditions creates this very high danger rating.

“Without a doubt, with conditions like these, fire danger will continue until we get some moisture,” Weisbaum continued. “It is important to follow simple rules. If you start a fire in these high danger areas or any area for that matter, you must ensure that the fire is completely out—cold to the touch—prior to abandoning it. It is also important to watch the weather and wind advisories. We have seen embers from fires carry over a mile away and ignite an additional fire, not necessarily one of our fires but learning of other major fires throughout the country. If there are fire bans in place, people must obey them. They are in place for a reason.”

As of early this week the Forest Service said the cause was still undetermined but under investigation.

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