Stagecoach With help from a snow storm, firefighters snuffed out hot spots, cut trees and dug fire lines Wednesday in an effort to control a still-smoldering forest fire on Lynx Pass.
"You're not in complete control until you've got a dirt line dug around the whole thing," Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said.
That could take a few days, he said.
Firefighters worked until 11 p.m. Tuesday and then were sent home to get some sleep before coming back to fight the fire again Wednesday morning.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday, all that was left of the fire were spots of smoldering wood and shrubs in charred tree stands.
Vale estimated that more than 200 acres were consumed in the fire, which produced flames of 60 feet above the tree line.
Fire investigators have identified an area on land belonging to Eugene Germain as the origin of the fire.
It was likely caused by someone burning brush, Routt County Undersheriff Dan Taylor said.
"It's pretty clear that's what happened," Vale said.
What's not clear is who started it.
A gray Chevy truck is sits near the fire's origin and Vale said it's part of the investigation.
Several people were contacted but no one has admitted to starting the fire.
It's not illegal to burn on private property. However, if the fire spreads to other property, then it is breaking the law, Vale said.
Germain's land was full of dry, dead wood, knee high, from what looked like an effort to thin the stand of trees, Vale said. That was a big factor in the fire getting out of control, he added.
The fire moved off Germain's land and into the Horseback Subdivision, where at least 80 people own small, undeveloped lots. From there, flames sprang up on Lou and Lydia Dequine's ranch, burning a large area of trees.
Luckily enough, no one was hurt and no structures were lost.
The flames came within 40 feet of Mike Petix's house on Bushy Creek. That was lucky, Vale said. The fire burned from the south side of the house, went around on the east side and then burned timber on the north side.
Another close call was a cabin at the north end of the fire, near Sarvice Wilderness Area.
The fire burned an approximately 50-yard patch of meadow about 100 feet from the cabin, but stopped before it threatened the structure.
Just behind the cabin was the boundary of the Sarvice Creek Wilderness Area, where motorized vehicles are prohibited under any circumstances.
"If it would have got in there, it would have been all over," Taylor said.
Numerous hand crews of firefighters would have been needed to contain the fire in the wilderness area.
Overall, officials were happy that the blaze didn't get more out of control than it did. Vale praised Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup in commanding the fire-fighting effort.
"It was a pretty impressive fire," Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Bob Struble said. "I've never seen a fire in heavy timber in Routt County behave the way this did."
Instead of burning one area, fires sprang up in several different places because of 40-mph winds blowing burning embers.
In one case, the fire crossed a 100-yard stretch of meadow that Morrison Creek ran through and started another stand of trees on fire.
Coupled with the high winds, the fast-spreading fire was aided by good burning conditions.
"It is drier right now than it has been in a couple years," Taylor said.
This is the 25th wildland fire the county has fought so far this year, which is far above normal.
Prompted by the fires in New Mexico, the federal government has announced a fire ban in all Western states for 30 days.
"Our crews are becoming exhausted and we're not even in fire season," Taylor said.
Because of the dry conditions, no one should be burning right now, he said.
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