The Coal Seam Fire may be forgotten, but it’s not quite gone
A fire that gained national attention when it started will be lucky to get any attention at all when it goes out.
The Coal Seam Fire may not finish burning until the snow flies, and the White River National Forest is comfortable waiting that long if need be.
The blaze was started by an underground coal seam fire June 8 in South Canyon. In an afternoon it exploded into an inferno that burned Red Mountain, crossed Interstate 70 and the Colorado River and roared northeast along the fringe of Glenwood Springs and up the Mitchell Creek valley, claiming 29 homes. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate.
Hundreds of firefighters worked to keep the fire from further threatening residential areas, or from dropping into the No Name Creek watershed, which helps supply the city’s drinking water.
The fire eventually burned more than 12,200 acres, and crews were never able to fully contain it. About 2 percent remains uncontained, because it is burning in a part of the Flat Tops that is rugged and dangerous, and it doesn’t present enough of a threat to warrant further efforts.
Instead, crews will continue to monitor it, said WRNF spokesperson Sue Froeschle.
A local firefighting team continues to work the Spring Creek Fire, a later blaze that burned north of New Castle and was fully contained last weekend. Helicopter support is still being provided for that fire, and air crews are keeping an eye on the nearby Coal Seam Fire. Where possible, forest workers also are watching the Coal Seam Fire from roads.
“That’s all the more that we can do at this point,” said Froeschle. “You don’t get any bang for your buck at this point in terms of trying to put it out.”
It’s not uncommon for big fires to burn throughout a season. Though the Spring Creek Fire is contained, for example, it’s not out. Froeschle said a fire on the Holy Cross Ranger District last year continued until the snow arrived.
“Once you feel like you’ve got it contained and it’s not going to get outside of that perimeter – you’re pretty confident – then the best thing you can do is monitor it and let it smolder and go out on its own,” she said.
Not further fighting the Coal Seam Fire is partly a function of limited resources in a record-setting fire season.
Safety is also a major consideration.
“There’s a very treacherous area that they just can’t get a line around,” said Froeschle.
She encouraged the public to call 911 if they see smoke.
“Something could torch up, and we would put some resources on that then.”
The Forest Service has revoked some closures that had been associated with the fire. No Name, Grizzly Creek and Transfer trails in Glenwood Canyon have been reopened.
The final costs of fighting the Coal Seam Fire are expected to be about $8 million.
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