Could have been a lot worse…
[ By Mark Reaman ]
What turned out to be a two-and-a-half acre brush fire off Highway 135 near Crested Butte South would probably have been much worse if the incident had taken place a few weeks earlier. Luckily, recent moisture helped keep the fire under control, but it still consumed a shed and made for quite the spectacle on Wednesday, October 6.
According to Crested Butte Fire Protection District chief Rob Weisbaum, firefighters were notified about 3 o’clock of a fire with a lot of smoke near mile marker 22 on the west side of the highway.
“On arrival, we found grass fire in three spots on the property west of the storage shed that was on the property,” he explained. “Winds were variable from the north. We began efforts on the grass fire but ran out of water in our initial efforts. The fire reached the corner of the shed and it became fully engulfed in under a minute. There was a very heavy fuel load in the open shed that included a vehicle, propane tank and fuel cans, among other items. This created the large black plume of smoke seen for miles.”
Weisbaum said mutual aid was requested from Gunnison Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, Gunnison EMS and the Mt. CB police department. Almost a dozen vehicles along with 24 first responders arrived at the scene. A Montrose helicopter was put on alert to possibly drop buckets of water on the fire, but it was not needed.
“Rural water supply is always challenge in our district,” Weisbaum explained. “We were able to set up a continuous water supply by utilizing our tender trucks going back and forth to our hydrant in CB south at the fire station. The fire progressed at a moderate rate (outpaces a walking pace) to the south and up the slope to the west. Luckily, no critical infrastructures were at risk however, we noted that a shift in wind could impact buildings and residences in the area.”
The fire started when a man who was cleaning up the recently purchased property was burning a trash pile. He had left earlier in the day thinking the fire was completely out. It wasn’t.
It took about four hours to completely extinguish the fire. Weisbaum said about 20,000 gallons of water was used. “Wind conditions wound down, favorable conditions and manpower helped reduce the further spread. Luckily, the grass had received decent moisture in the days to weeks prior. If this had occurred in the middle of summer, this fire would have had the opportunity to grow larger,” he concluded.