Steamboat Springs A cold front that moved through Northwest Colorado Tuesday brought rain and cooler temperatures, but only a small reprieve to the 30,000-acre fire burning in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs.
"This helps," fire information officer Punky Moore said. "This does not put the fires out."
The moisture can be deceiving, she said.
People might look at the showers and think the rain is dousing the flames, when it is barely scratching the surface of the fire, Moore said. The rains, however, slowed down fire activity enough to give fire crews some time to get after the blaze, she said.
Drizzling rain throughout the morning means the fire probably didn't grow too much Tuesday, said Diann Pipher, public relations officer with the Forest Service.
A Type I Incident Management Team took over responsibility of the fire which has been dubbed the Mount Zirkel Complex fire Tuesday morning. More than 330 people have been assigned to the fire. The transition from a Type II to a Type I fire means the blaze merits resources and strategies that cannot be met by a Type II team.
Forest Service officials anticipated Tuesday's moisture and expect additional showers today and Thursday. But moisture, higher humidity and lower temperatures brought on by the recent rainfall can easily disappear when the wind picks up.
"That tends to dry out the forest," Moore said.
In certain portions of wilderness where dense timber acts as a canopy to the fuel below, there may not be any moisture for the wind to dry out.
"The trees are so tight together in places that the rain didn't even penetrate through to the ground," fire information officer Lynn Barclay said.
The rain helped to clear out some of the smoke that has blanketed Steamboat Springs over the last few days and cooled down the fire.
But the welcome change to weather still brought its own set of problems.
The rain created muddy conditions that prevented firefighters from reaching their lines until later in the day, Barclay said.
"It made the roads slippery," she said. "We couldn't put the crews out until the rains stopped."
Although estimates of the size of the Mount Zirkel Complex remain at 30,000 acres, Forest Service officials hope to do more accurate mapping of burn area when the skies clear.
No structures that border the Mount Zirkel Wilderness have been destroyed. The Mount Zirkel Complex fire is actually comprised of two fires the Hinman and Burn Ridge fires that officials believe may merge in the coming days.
About 30 private residences and five commercial properties along Seedhouse Road near the southern edge of the Hinman fire are threatened, but fire crews have plans in place to prevent the fire from heading further south.
Firefighters could potentially burn brush and trees along the northern edge of Seedhouse Road to eliminate fuels that lie in the predicted path of the fire. By using fire to fight fire, firefighters cripple the blaze's advance by leaving it nothing to burn.
Containment lines constructed by fire crews at the western end of the Burn Ridge fire continue to hold, but the blaze has moved closer to private land and properties in North Park and threatened several ranches, crops and outbuildings.
The Burn Ridge fire crossed over the Continental Divide and is now burning on both sides of the Divide.
The Mount Zirkel Complex is 5 percent contained. Seedhouse Road and trails in the area remain closed, but businesses along the road are still open for business.
Fire officials intend to hold the western ends of both fires and suppress the blaze where it moves beyond the wilderness boundaries and threatens private property.
Much of the fire is still burning sections of blowdown that pose too many risks to firefighters' safety.
The Green Creek fire 15 miles southeast of Steamboat Springs is now 46 percent contained. More accurate mapping put the size of the blaze at 4,400 acres in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness. No structures have been destroyed, but 13 residences, one commercial property and 18 outbuildings are threatened by the fire. Although the fire is moving slowly, the potential for growth still exists.
More than 100 people have been assigned to the blaze, which is estimated to have cost almost $200,000. No cost estimates are available yet for the Mount Zirkel Complex.
Forest Service Road 100 remains closed from Red Dirt Reservoir to the junction at U.S. 40 because of the Greek Creek fire.
The Lost Lakes fire in the Flat Tops Wilderness is 16 percent contained at 5,100 acres.