Mad Creek Fire continues to burn

Concerted containment efforts begin

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— Though firefighters woke to rain clouds in Routt County after battling a wildfire on Wednesday, the second coming of the Mad Creek Fire increased its acreage, burning to 290 acres by Thursday morning and by that afternoon had consumed 340 acres.

"That bit of moisture didn't really affect the fuels in that area," Forest Service spokeswoman Punky Moore said.

Though some areas of the Routt Forest recorded a quarter-inch of rain on Thursday, Moore said the dead, dry and downed timber the fire is burning needs rain for multiple days to have a significant effect. On Thursday, three Hot Shot crews, from Pike's Peak, Wyoming and Craig worked the fire in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, five miles east of Moon Hill. They followed decisions made by U.S. Forest Service and fire officials to try to build a fire line around some of the flames and use natural barriers to control other portions of the fire, Moore said.

Mary Peterson, forest supervisor for the Routt/Medicine Bow National Forest, gave the crews permission to use chain saws to help build the fire line, going against a wilderness law that forbids motorized equipment in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.

The containment area could be up to 3,000 acres, which is the worst-case scenario that Forest Service officials theorized to control the Mad Creek Fire.

The blaze started burning earlier this month, Mike Rieser, fire management officer for the Craig-Routt Fire Management Unit, told the Steamboat Pilot & Today Wednesday. Probably only a third of that acreage would burn, he added.The Mad Creek Fire originally started from a lightning strike and was spotted on July 9. It burned about 100 acres in a blowdown area near Swamp Park in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. The blowdown was caused by a wind storm in 1997 that blew down thousands of acres of trees in a 30-by-5-mile area. The fire was considered extinguished by July 11. However, an undetected hot spot from the blaze remained, which was spotted Tuesday.

The fire moved in a northerly direction Thursday while the southern edge held well, Moore said.

"It's going to be a tough job," Moore said of the final containment of the fire.

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