Crews battle 2 blazes in Blowdown

While small, fires in Blowdown area have dangerous amount of dry fuel


— Steamboat Today

A fire in the Routt Divide Blowdown burned eight acres before it was contained Wednesday night, while a second smaller fire continued to burn about a mile away.

Both fires were started by an electrical storm Monday.

Smoke jumpers were dropped into the Routt Divide Blowdown area to attack the Hinman Fire, as the second fire is being called, located 19 miles north of Steamboat on a ridge in the Routt National Forest near Three Island Lake, about a mile southeast of the South Fork Fire.

As of Wednesday afternoon, two acres of lodgepole pine, spruce and fir, much of it dry, dead material from the Blowdown, had burned in the Hinman Fire. Air tankers and helicopters continued dropping water and retardant on the fire through the day to slow its spread. Ccntainment of the Hinman Fire was expected Thursday, said Forest Service spokesman Dave Steinke.

Among the firefighters working that blaze was a crew from the North Routt Fire Protection District. Using a 2,000-gallon tender and a 750-gallon heavy duty brush truck, the crew wetted down the western perimeter of the fire and doused hot spots in it, Lt. Craig Lodge said.

Even though the Hinman Fire is relatively small in size, the summer's dry, windy weather and the large amount of fuel provided by Blowdown timber make it a cause for concern, said Diann Pipher, the Forest Service's fire information officer. Because of the conditions, all fires in the Routt National Forest will be suppressed.

"The fact that it's dry and in dead and down slash, we want to keep it (the fire) small," Barclay said.

Signs of the Hinman Fire didn't surface until 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Because it is less accessible than the South Fork Fire, crews are being shuttled in by helicopter. Local firefighters there are being assisted by the Silver State Hot Shots from New Mexico.

"Because Hinman is so inaccessible, the crews are going to be shuttled in by helicopter and then the helicopter will work both fires with bucket drops," said Lynn Barclay of the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center.

A 20-person crew from the Front Range also is on stand-by in case of any other sleeping fires that may surface from Monday's storm. Lightning-started fires can burn underground for a couple of days before they surface.

"There's a possibility that other fires could flare up from Monday's lightning storm," Pipher said.

Officials were concerned that the Hinman Fire would spread in the Blowdown.

The dry, dead timber in the Blowdown, combined with the recent lack of precipitation, could spell trouble. The thick layers of trees also are making the fire fighting slower and more hazardous, Pipher said.

"It's really difficult to fight a fire in the Blowdown area," Pipher said. "There isn't a road up to Hinman, but we can get firefighters in by flying them. The Blowdown fuel is a big concern and firefighter safety is our biggest concern."

The location of the South Fork Fire, though, actually helped the firefighting efforts because two natural barriers helped in getting the fire contained, Pipher said.

On the south side of the fire, the south fork of Elk River acted as a barrier and Forest Road 443 acted as a barrier as well, on the fire's north side.

To reach Larissa Keever call 871-4208


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