Sign of the lightning times: Small blaze behind Yampah Mountain High School extinguished |

Sign of the lightning times: Small blaze behind Yampah Mountain High School extinguished

Firefighters continue to search for smoldering trees caused by strikes

Fire consumes a small tree on a ridge west of Yampah Mountain High School.
Courtesy of Glenwood Springs Fire Department

Fire crews took a little more than two hours to fully extinguish a small blaze on the ridgeline west of Yampah Mountain High School on Wednesday, Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said.

“We were lucky in this case,” he said. “Lucky’s a relative term, but access was pretty good. It was a close hike for the guys into it, and then ultimately we were able to get a wildland engine relatively close via some two-track road and pump water on it.”

The first crew arrived on scene around 5:48 p.m. The fire was fully extinguished by 7:53 p.m., Tillotson said. No evacuations were issued.

With the assistance of the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit and Colorado River Fire Rescue, at least 12 firefighters were deployed to the area, Tillotson said.

Tillotson said there were two to four trees on fire or smoldering, and the fire was attacked early. A lack of wind meant the fire did not spread further.

Tillotson said the fire was extinguished without the use of a helicopter, which at the time was deployed in Eagle County.

Lightning strikes are a common occurrence in Garfield County right now.

“Along with these monsoon season thunderstorms, there’s always a plethora of lightning,” Tillotson said. “The same lightning storms that have been bringing these rains and/or floods to Glenwood Canyon are bringing lightning to the surrounding hilltops.”

A tree on fire at the top of a ridge near Yampah Mountain High School.
Courtesy of Glenwood Springs Fire Department

Glenwood Springs Fire has covered at least four lightning strikes over the past two weeks, Tillotson said.

“I do know the Colorado River fire ran a significant number of lightning strikes last week,” he said. “They had some concurrent ones last night. So we’re all seeing a lot of lightning strike activity right now.

Good news is a lot of them are accompanied by some rain.”

Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Leif Sackett said they responded to 12 single-tree fires or smoke checks between July 22 and 23 alone.

“I know last week we were busy,” he said. “It’s been single-tree fires.”

On July 23, Colorado River Fire Rescue was paged to five lightning strikes on Grass Mesa directly south of Rifle.

Throughout July, the Colorado River Fire Rescue district has been called to 21 fires, including brush, wildland and grass fires.

“Most of them have been lightning-caused,” Sackett said.

Sackett also said low moisture in the topsoil and surrounding vegetation is one reason why lightning strikes are prevalent right now.

“Every year, that’s something that we deal with around here,” he said. “We have cloud-to-ground lightning, and that’s what happens.”

Tillotson said because there was a significant amount of lightning around the area, the Glenwood Springs Fire Department requested the state’s thermal imaging — the multi-mission aircraft — to scout the area Thursday morning to search for smoldering hotspots.

“We’ll just be on heightened awareness and hope that our resources are still available,” Tillotson said.

“Helicopters are still our best friend when it comes to these lightning-strike fires.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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