Scale CR 205 today and snag a view of the Big Fish Fire | PostIndependent.com
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Scale CR 205 today and snag a view of the Big Fish Fire

Heather McGregor

The U.S. Forest Service will reopen the lower half of the Trapper’s Lake Road, Garfield County Road 205, this morning. Motorists can drive to the Rio Blanco Ranch overlook for a view of the area burned by the Big Fish Fire.

Guided public tours to the overlook will be offered from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Meanwhile, guests with reservations at Trapper’s Lake Lodge, which was partially burned when the fire blew up last Friday, are being escorted in. The lodge staff is still hosting guests and serving meals, said fire information officer Ron Hodgson.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Big Fish Fire covered 14,500 acres and was creeping through dry, heavy timber to the northwest. Fire analysts predict it will burn a total of 18,800 acres before autumn rains and snow douse the last embers.

“The only things burning are larger logs and stumps, so it’s not likely to spread much,” Hodgson said.

It has burned westerly to Paradise Creek and may eventually burn into the Mirror Creek basin.

Both of those drainages are northwest of Big Fish Lake, where a lightning strike ignited the fire July 19. The fire poked along for weeks until dry, hot winds last week pushed it east toward Trapper’s Lake.

“The whole area around the lake is burned, clear up to the cliffs” Hodgson said of the mile-long lake, a focal point of the Flat Tops Wilderness and the White River Valley.

“But it’s not that bad,” he added. Stands of aspen resisted the flames, and some patches of dark timber didn’t burn.

At the Trapper’s Lake Lodge, the fire burned the lodge building, a barn and six cabins, but spared other cabins associated with the lodge, the store, and privately-owned cabins nearby. Firefighters had been preparing the area to survive a wildfire, but the Friday blow-up happened before the work was finished.

Firefighters set up an incident command post four miles away at the Rio Blanco Ranch, but were nearly caught by another fire run on Monday afternoon. A thunderstorm moving through the area stirred downdraft winds, blowing flames through the tree crowns.

This time, however, firefighters were totally prepared. They had wrapped some buildings close to the forest with reflective material, laid hoses throughout the ranch and used sprinklers to wet down the vegetation.

The flames came close, Hodgson reported, but no structures burned and no one was injured.

Rains falling on Tuesday and Wednesday have begun to soak the ground cover and lessen the risk of the fire spreading. But Hodgson said large trees are still tinder-dry and highly flammable in this year of extreme drought.

Federal agencies have 136 people stationed in the area to monitor the Big Fish Fire and the nearby Lost Lake Fire. Both are within the Flat Tops Wilderness and are being allowed to let burn except where structures are threatened.

In the case of the Lost Lake Fire, no structures are in the area, so fire analysts are monitoring the blaze from a helicopter and allowing it to burn. It is about five miles due north of Trapper’s Lake, just over the Chinese Wall and Lost Lakes Peaks, and across the Routt County line.

The Lost Lake Fire has burned 4,800 acres and is expected to spread to 15,000 acres before the snow flies. It was started July 13 by a pair of lightning strikes.

Costs for the two fires totaled $390,000 as of Wednesday.

Incident commander Wayne Cook planned to send home the one remaining crew of firefighters today but will keep two smaller groups called “fire use module crews.” They are firefighters trained to work in “let-burn” fire situations. Their task is to protect structures near the Big Fish Fire, using four fire engines, and start the long job of making the burned area safe for backcountry travelers.

Much of the Flat Tops Wilderness was struck by a widespread beetle kill in the 1950s, and thousands of dead, standing snags remained. The snags were already prone to topple over. Now the fire has burned what little remained of their root structure, making them very hazardous.

“Our biggest job now is to get those snags down. A tree without branches falls very fast, and it doesn’t make any noise until it hits. You don’t get any warning. We heard three drop while we were out today,” Hodgson said. “It’s a real danger to anyone coming into the area.”


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