Lowline Fire not going to be easy to suppress 

Three campers rescued and reunited with family

By Mark Reaman

Firefighters expect to be dealing with the Lowline Fire southwest of Crested Butte for at least several more days if not longer given the dead and downed fuels on the ground in the area. The hope is that monsoon rains come in as forecast starting Sunday and running through at least Tuesday to help suppress the fire.

Officials are now saying that the fire that is believed to have started from a lightning strike on Wednesday, stands at 798 acres and is 1% contained. In a Saturday morning update, it was stated that “fire crews, heavy equipment, and aerial firefighting resources continue to focus tactical efforts on limiting fire spread to the east towards County Road 730, while securing direct fireline around the southern flank and planning strategic operations for the more remote western side of the fire where fuels are heaviest.”

Rick Barton, fire information officer for the Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team, held a press briefing Friday afternoon in Gunnison. He said more than 200 professional firefighters and support staff are on the scene and more are coming in. The Lowline Fire is classified as a Critical Incident so more resources could become available as needed. He said helicopters have been dropping water and not fire retardant on the scene and that has been helping. Bulldozers and 20-person hand crews are on the ground putting in fire lines.

“This is not going to be a quick fire for us to put out,” he said. “The area is dry with lots of dead and downed trees and grasses and that will hold the fire. We don’t expect significant containment to happen for several days.”

Barton said the weather forecast is calling for Saturday to be a hot, dry day like Wednesday and that is not good news for the situation. On Thursday there was cloud cover along with higher humidity and intermittent moisture that helped suppress the spread of the fire. The chance of rain is forecast to be more than 50% starting Sunday.

“We have people and resources from probably five states and as far away as Georgia, Utah and the Dakotas,” he said. “The idea is to take the burden off the local resources as best we can so they can focus on their normal responsibilities.”

Barton said five people were evacuated from the area as soon as the fire was spotted Wednesday. Three campers were also rescued as part of the initial response.

“In a bit of a good news story, three ladies were camping on the Lowline trail, and the fire cut them off from their vehicles,” he said. “Three safety personnel located the ladies and brought them out safely to a very happy reunion with their husbands. So it is always good to acknowledge the good news from the situation.”

Any evacuation notices will be made through the Gunnison County sheriff’s office with advice from firefighters on the ground. “They will also lift the evacuation orders as soon as they feel the area is safe,” Barton said.

Ohio Pass Road remains closed from the top of Kebler Pass.

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