Steamboat Springs Hank Gamble's annual camping trip in the Zirkel Wilderness with his friend, Mike Carey, and their sons, Justin, Brett and Nick, was meant to be a great outdoor experience for fathers and sons but ended shortly when Forest Service officials learned the campers were in danger of the rapidly spreading Burn Ridge fire.
The group was rescued by the U.S. Forest Service in a helicopter Thursday afternoon when the Burn Ridge fire moved into a lower valley and trapped them from hiking down.
"It was a little hairy. We could have gotten on top of the Divide, but we didn't know where the fire was going," Gamble said.
The group had hiked to Dome Lake Wednesday to camp for a few nights and never suspected the Burn Ridge fire would soon put an end to their trip. The lightning-caused fire spread from 100 to 1,600 acres Thursday.
Diann Pipher, Forest Service spokeswoman, said she was glad to get the campers out before the fire had spread any further.
Gamble said when his group took off to hike to the top of Dome Peak Thursday morning, the fire didn't look any larger than the day before .
"We could see the fire. We weren't that concerned about it," Gamble said.
Later in the day, incident commander Dale Skidmore and other fire officials were flying over the Burn Ridge fire during a reconnaissance mission and noticed the fire was spreading rapidly. When fire officials spotted the campers' tent, they went looking for the group to prevent them from danger.
"We wanted to get them out of there and make sure they were safe," Pipher said.
Pipher said winds picked up Thursday afternoon, spreading the fire that is consuming the dry timber of the blowdown in the Zirkel Wilderness.
The campers were spotted near the top of Dome Peak and were motioned to moved to lower ground, where a transport chopper could land and pick them up.
Gamble said when Skidmore told them they weren't in any immediate danger, but needed to leave the area soon, his group became really frightened.
"The children were very scared, but it wasn't to the point of us being in physical danger," he said.
Forest Service officials waited until they packed up their camp and then gave the group a helicopter ride to the Steamboat airport.
"They did a hell of a job. I respect the Forest Service greatly they looked out for us," Gamble said.
He said camping in the Zirkel Wilderness is a yearly father-son event, and he was expecting one more father-and-son pair to arrive for the trip Thursday. He said he called the two waiting to join their group and told them the plans had changed after the fire spread.
"This sort of put a damper on it. I hope they get it contained," he said.
Pipher said the group was in no immediate danger but could have gotten into trouble if they tried to hike down the trail. She said there was another trail that would have led the hikers out, but the great distance of the trail and the unpredictability of the fire made fire officials react hastily and airlift the group from the area.
Because of the Burn Ridge fire, the following trails and roads have closed:
Road 400, Seedhouse Rd., east of 443; Rd. 443, North Lake Road; Rd. 440, Greenville Mine Rd., (south of Hinman Campground); Rd. 468, Mill Creek Rd.; Trail 1163, Three Island Trail; Trail 1164, North Lake Trail: Trail 1170, Chilton Trail; Trail 1100.5A, South Fork Trail; Trail 1150, Gold Lake Trail; Trail 1161, Gilpin Lake Trail; Trail 1101, Wyoming Trail (Between Trail 1131 Red Canyon and 1150 Gold Lake Trails); Trail 1100, Swamp Park Trail (North of Trail 1166 Roaring Fork Trail); Trail 1142, Red Dirt Pass Trail.