Fire with fire

Officials will impart new strategy in blowdown area

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— Fire managers are looking at using fire to fight two fires burning more than 36,500 acres in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.

The Hinman and Burn Ridge fires, which fire officials have termed the Mount Zirkel Complex, are burning close to each other in portions of blowdown 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs.

The Type I Incident Management Team that assumed responsibility of the fire Tuesday is considering burning the dead and downed trees that lie between the two fires.

Fire officials are concerned the two blazes will merge.

Setting fire to the heavy concentrations of timber would give the larger fire nothing to burn and slow down its speed.

Blowdown areas still present dangerous conditions for firefighters, so fire managers are concentrating on holding the western ends of both blazes. Suppression would begin immediately should the fire move beyond the wilderness area and threaten private land and residences.

Crews working the fire Wednesday reported two or three instances of scattered showers.

Rain kept headway on the blaze at a minimum, fire information officer Bob Bayer said.

"It was pretty minimal," he said. "There was likely not much progress because of the weather."

Muddy conditions caused by heavier than expected rains have delayed firefighters from reaching their lines. Fire managers in some instances pulled fire crews off the lines because of concerns the slippery environment posed a safety hazard.

The moisture, however, held the fire's growth in check.

"It keeps the fire behavior down," Bayer said.

The fire is 5 percent contained.

Fire officials continue to stress that the moisture will have little impact on the overall fire or the long-term conditions of the forest.

Dense pockets of trees have blocked rain from reaching sections of the forest floor. That means the tinder-dry fuel on the ground never benefits from the moisture above.

Fire activity will likely pick up when drier conditions replace the cooler, wet conditions.

The Green Creek fire, which remains at 4,400 acres to the south of Steamboat Springs, has received more than a quarter of an inch of rain since Tuesday. There were some reports of hail Wednesday.

Greek Creek incident commander Joe Hartman stressed the scattered showers provided nothing more than temporary relief.

"Any moisture is welcome, but we don't want people to think the threat from fire is over," Hartman said. "If the anticipated drying trend develops, we'll see active burning again."

The fire in the northern portions of the Sarvis Creek Wilderness crept slowly along, as dozers worked on extending fire lines around the southeast flank of the blaze, which is now 58 percent contained.

More accurate mapping put the Big Fish fire 34 miles south of Steamboat Springs at 14,500 acres.

The Forest Service continues to manage the Lost Lakes fire, the second blaze burning in the Flat Tops Wilderness, Suppression measures will be taken should the blaze spread toward private land or areas in the path of homes.

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