Middle Elk fire grows to 213 acres | PostIndependent.com

Middle Elk fire grows to 213 acres

Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Photo Courtesy US Forest Service, White RIver NatiAn aerial photo taken Saturday near the origin of the Middle Elk fire shows that the fire had burned very hot in that area.

NEW CASTLE, Colorado – A fire burning in the Flat Tops west of the Buford-to-New Castle Road and believed to have been started by an unattended campfire last Thursday had grown to 213 acres by Sunday night.

Crews were hoping today’s rain would help with firefighting efforts.

“There was only 100ths of an inch of rain overnight, and we’ll need more than that,” White River National Forest spokesman Bill Kight said at midday Monday. “We are anticipating more moisture today and into the week that should help us a lot.”

The Middle Elk Fire, as it’s being called, is suspected to be the result of a campfire left unattended sometime the afternoon of Sept. 20, Kight said.

“This is a reminder that the fire season is not over, and that people need to be careful in the woods,” Kight said. “We found more than six unattended campfires over the weekend, and that’s just unacceptable.”

Firefighters spent the weekend battling the wildfire, which had grown to 213 acres on Sunday. The fire is burning in rough terrain in thick conifer and aspen forest loaded with snags and downed trees near Hiner Spring, located about 30 miles northwest of New Castle.

“The public is asked to avoid the area at this time in order for firefighters and equipment to move safely when needed,” Kight said in a press release issued Sunday night.

Temporary closures and roadblocks in the area, including the Buford Road, could occur at any time over the next few days, he said.

Campers at the Meadow Lake Campground southeast of the fire were evacuated late Saturday, as were four hunting parties in primitive camps on side roads east of the Buford-to-New Castle Road in the Hiner Springs area.

On Sunday afternoon, the road was closed to through traffic below the fire, Kight said. Deputies from the Garfield and Rio Blanco sheriff’s departments were manning roadblocks on either side of the fire.

Fire crews arrived on the scene late Friday and Saturday.

Incident Commander Ross Wilmore directed a team of 100 people, including two Juniper Valley hand crews, the Cheyenne River Fire Crew and three engines, as well as helitack crews based at Rifle and Mesa Verde with one medium helicopter.

Helitack firefighters jump or belay from hovering helicopters, gaining quick access to rough, remote spots.

The combination of downed timber, persistent drought and rocky, steep slopes in the drainages make for dangerous firefighting conditions, Kight said.

On Saturday evening, the team carried out a burn-out operation east of the Buford-to-New Castle Road at Hiner Spring in an effort to create a fire break. More burn-outs are expected as fire crews work to draw a fire line around the blaze, Kight said.

A storm front moved over the Flat Tops Sunday, delivering high winds and gusts up to 40 mph, adding to the difficulty.

Resources on scene included two Type 1 Hotshot crews, one strike team of Type 6 engines and one or more single engine air tankers.

“There are so many fires burning around the country, it’s been difficult to get the resources,” Kight said Sunday.

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