UPDATE: Structure protection ‘top priority’ after winds cause Flat Tops fire to flare up

Helicopter fire suppression operations over the Cabin Lake Fire that's burning near the New Castle-to-Buford Road.
Courtesy White River National Forest

UPDATE Aug. 12, 10 a.m. — Public and firefighter safety and structure protection remain top priority on the Cabin Lake Fire burning several miles north of New Castle, as multiple hand crews, engines, heavy machinery and aerial support continue to aggressively suppress the fire.

According to a Sunday morning update, engines and firefighters will focus on structure protection efforts on the north and western flanks of the fire, while hand crews will work to engage the fire directly along the northeastern and northwestern fire edge to establish and strengthen control line with machinery, saws and hand tools. Additionally, crews will utilize a previous burn scar located on the eastern flank of the fire to establish and tie into control line on the north flank of the fire to check fire spread.

The fire is reported to be backing slowly down to County Road 17 on the northwestern perimeter of the fire where firefighters are securing and patrolling the road. Aerial operations, including a Type 1 helicopter, will continue to assist with water bucket drops as needed, focusing on the western and northern flanks of the fire.

Saturday night, two engines and several firefighters conducted night operations, patrolling control lines and structures throughout the fire area. Structures remain threatened, however no structures have been lost.

“Safety of firefighters, the public and structure protection remains a top priority,” District Ranger Curtis Keetch said in the press release. “We continue to work in close coordination with the Rio Blanco Sheriff’s Office on this incident, and we thank the Sheriff’s Office, landowners, ranchers and the local community for their support as we continue to aggressively suppress this fire.”

The pre-evacuation notice for Rio Blanco County Road 17 in Rio Blanco County remains in effect. Due to the increased fire activity,the road, also known as the Buford/New Castle Road, remains closed at the County Road 10 and County Road 17 intersection and south to the Meadow Lake Campground Turnoff (Forest Road 601).

Today’s weather forecast is hot, dry and breezy with low humidity and the potential for gusting winds and isolated thunderstorms in the afternoon. The weather is expected to increase fire activity in the afternoon and early evening and create large amounts of smoke. Smoke is drifting south, east and west and is visible from Buford, Meeker, New Castle and Rifle.

The fire began the night of July 29, and has been burning in heavy fuels about 5.5 miles south of the small town of Buford.

A wind event late Friday increased fire activity on the Cabin Lake Fire, as the fire burning south of the town of Buford grew to 1,900 acres Saturday, expanding to the northwest and southwest. Containment on the fire also dropped to 45 percent, after having been at 70 percent on Friday, according to a Saturday update from federal fire managers.

“The shift in wind direction created long and short range spotting conditions and active fire behavior,” according to a press release from the White River National Forest. “The fire spotted over control lines to the north and northwest, establishing itself outside of control lines yesterday evening and threatening structures.”

Extra air resources were called in to help keep the fire away from structures. Additionally, three 20-person hand crews were working to create new controls lines that tie into existing features like meadows and roads. Two more hand crews were expected to arrive Saturday.

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