Officials plan burnout of their own to help contain fire north of town

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— To control a wilderness fire 11 miles north of Steamboat Springs, authorities are planning to battle the blaze with a fire of their own.

To contain and control the Mad Creek fire, fire crews are constructing a line east of the fire with rakes and shovels, said Rusty Ruszin, a fire information officer based in Craig.

"We are scraping the ground to the soil, and we will burn out from there," Ruszin said. "The burnout will take out the fuel that is there."

So far, the fire has burned 120 acres in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness on the Routt County portion of the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest.

The fire has burned dead and downed timber, which has dried considerably since the Routt Divide Blowdown of 1997.

Authorities are setting the blaze in an attempt to stop the fire at the created hand line.

Theoretically, the blaze set by authorities should burn the dead and downed timber that is in the path of the slowly, eastern-moving fire, Ruszin said.

"Once the fire reaches the burnout, there will be no more fuel for the fire to burn," he said.

Firefighters are using the low-impact tactics to minimize disturbance to the wilderness resources.

Since Monday evening, fire crews have been working to contain the fire. Fire crews on scene include Hot Shot crews from Roosevelt and from South Dakota, Wyoming and Arizona. Helicopters have been used to shuttle crews and equipment to the site.

The fire is surrounded by natural barriers, aiding the containment effort. A rocky ridge, standing green timber and wet meadows surround the fire.

Authorities hope the burnout will provide firefighters a hand up when the fire reaches the "mop-up" stage.

"Burning out into the blowdown should result in a cleaner burn and reduce the time invested by firefighters in mop-up," said Kim Vogel, Hahns Peak/Bears Ears district ranger.

Mop-up status is usually declared when an area 50 feet inward from the containment line has "cooled down" enough for experienced firefighters to feel and smell the ground.

The fire was reported just after midnight Monday. Authorities believe a lightning strike started the blaze.

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