Fire erupts in North Routt

Blaze jumps from 115 acres to 500 acres Friday

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— A fire sparked by lightning is burning in northern Routt National Forest and had consumed about 500 acres as of 8 p.m. Friday.

Evacuations had not been recommended by that time Friday, said Diann Pipher, public affairs officer for the Routt National Forest.

Because of the fire's closeness to some places such as the Vista Verde Guest Ranch, which was about 2 miles from the fire Friday night, forest officials might eventually recommend some people leave the area.

The fire is in and between the Hinman and the Coulton Creek drainages, an area about 5 miles east of Hahn's Peak and about 23 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Smoke from the fire was visible in Steamboat throughout Friday afternoon.

The area is very steep and heavily wooded in some spots, Pipher said.

There were several crews on the fire Friday, but Pipher said a more concentrated effort at fighting the fire would take place today, when more crews and equipment were available.

The fire could become more of a threat because it is burning in heavy timber and is near the blowdown region, where piles of dead trees still lie from the 1997 windstorm.

"That means there's a whole lot of fuel, a whole lot of trees, there to burn," Pipher said.

The fire grew from 115 acres to about 500 acres Friday afternoon.

Forest Service officials did a preliminary assessment of the fire to determine how best to fight it and were still determining which roads to close.

Pipher said all hiking trails in the area are closed and that people are discouraged from entering the area.

"We're asking the public not to go into that area at all," she said. "It's not safe. It's so dry, it's windy, there's no rain in the forecast. We don't want anyone putting themselves in harm's way by going up there."

Firefighters are also working to contain a second small fire that started up about 1 1/2 miles east of the Hinman fire, Pipher said.

It is difficult to estimate how quickly the fire could move and grow, but Pipher said it has the potential to grow.

"Given that it's on steep slopes and in heavy timber, and given that we're in an extreme drought, the fire could move fairly quickly," she said. "The report today was that the fire was fairly active, so that means it's moving and burning."

One immediate worry could be hikers in the area near the fire. Pipher said Forest Service officials are checking the sign-in sheets to figure out where people could be.

"We're closing trailheads in that area," she said. "Hopefully people that are already up there hiking will see the smoke and come out."

Jeremy Darling, a clerk at the Clark Store, said he had talked with about a half-dozen hikers who came into the store after the smoke picked up this afternoon.

"We've had people coming down say that they tried to get out of there as fast as they could," Darling said. "They said it was hard to see and there was ash everywhere."

Darling said smoke from the fire turned black at about 1:30 p.m. Friday and that ashes were falling onto the store throughout the afternoon.

Some local residents are talking about moving their livestock or packing up a few bags, Darling said.

"Everybody coming in is asking about the fire," he said.

To reach Susan Bacon call 871-4206 or e-mail intern@steamboatpilot.com

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