Crews start controlled burn

Firefighters hope to contain Mad Creek fire

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— Crews at the Mad Creek fire burned 200 acres in a controlled burn Sunday evening in hopes to secure a line on the most active sections of the fire.

Meanwhile, the amount of land affected by the fire increased to 670 acres and is about 20 percent contained, as dry conditions, winds and a lot of dead trees made for prime fire conditions over the weekend.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Punky Moore said the wildfire, which is in the Routt National Forest about 11 miles north of Steamboat Springs and five miles east of Moon Hill, was burning on two fronts to the east and to the north. The controlled burn will consume fuels on the northeast side of the wildfire, between a fire line and the fronts.

The fire is burning dead, uprooted spruce and fir trees that were blown over in the 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown, where 120 mph winds toppled about 4 million trees.

Moore said the downed timber the Mad Creek fire is burning is large but in an isolated area. It is proving to be difficult to work with because the dry wood makes the fire hard to completely extinguish. She said officials are more concerned about getting the fire completely out once it is contained than they are about it growing to a larger blaze that could threaten private property.

"We are worried about the fire potentially smoldering in the fuels," Moore said.

The Mad Creek fire originally began July 9 from a lightning strike. Crews thought the fire was under control a few days later after it burned about 100 acres. However, on July 24 an undetected hot spot flared up, leading to the blaze that firefighters are dealing with today.

The 200-acre controlled burn is on land that was not affected by the 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown. If the Mad Creek fire continues to smolder in the blowdown today, or in the next few weeks, officials hope the controlled burn site will stop the flames from going anywhere, Moore said.

"(The controlled burn) went very well, according to plan," Moore said Sunday evening.

"They have confidence in this plan."

Four elite national firefighting crews, called Hot Shots, are working on the fire alongside of firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Parks. In all, about 141 personnel are working on the fire.

Moore said managing fires and controlled burns are risky tasks, "but we are minimizing every risk to ensure it is a safe operation."

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