Fire grows

Steep terrain, heavy timber slow

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The Hinman fire in Routt National Forest 20 miles north of Steamboat Springs grew to about 800 acres Saturday and is now 2 percent contained.

The fire is burning in and between the Coulton Creek and Hinman drainages where the steep terrain and heavy timber make it more of a threat, officials said.

The fire broke out and spread rapidly Friday due to erratic winds in the area, but slightly cooler temperatures and calmer winds yesterday kept fire activity low. Progress was made constructing a fire line using dozers, hand crews and a helicopter that dumped water on the flames.

There are now 45 county and federal personnel working on the fire and a Type II team from Arizona was scheduled to arrive Saturday night.

The Seedhouse Road is closed at the junction of County Road 129 because of the firefighter traffic on the corridor. Trails and campgrounds in the area are also closed.

No evacuations have been ordered, but residents have been notified of the fire and officials have made plans for evacuations if they become necessary. There are about 170 structures and between 300 and 500 residents in the area, officials said.

The fire was most likely sparked by a lightning storm last Monday. After the storm, several small fires were spotted and put out, but this fire probably smoldered in an area until it grew large on Friday.

"It's more explosive because of the drought," said Chuck Vale, Routt County Emergency Manager.

Throughout Friday, the fire exhibited extreme behavior. Trees exploded and there were significant downhill runs and spotting. Huge columns of black smoke were also observed and visibility was greatly reduced in some areas.

This extreme fire behavior was not observed yesterday but Vale said the situation was still dangerous, especially because the many fires throughout Colorado and the western United States have limited firefighting resources.

Vista Verde Guest Ranch is about 1 1/2 miles from the fire's edge, but Vale said if the fire got closer to the ranch it would most likely be blocked by a large stand of Aspen trees, which don't burn well, and the open fields around the ranch.

Now the ranch is serving as a staging area for some of the structure protection crews. John Munn, who owns the ranch with his wife, said he's notified current guests and guests who will be arriving in the next week about the fire.

"You dread it," he said.

But Munn said he was encouraged by the skill of the firefighters.

"We've gotten to know most of this crew and they're good," he said.

A more serious worry is the number of residences located along the Seedhouse Road that are surrounded by trees. If the fire were to jump into those areas, it could be difficult for crews to protect the structures, Vale said.

"We've got to convince people in this county that live in the conifer forests that we've got to do something," Vale said, and suggested trimming, cutting and clearing trees and underbrush from around homes.

The fire is a few miles west of an 11,000-acre section of the 1997 Blow-Down, a windstorm that tore down about 20,000 acres of forest.

In the area close to the fire, about 7,000 acres have been salvaged logged. In the remaining acres, piles of dead trees could provide a lot of fuel for the fire to burn, Vale said.

North Routt Fire Chief Peter Baillie said the weather conditions of high temperatures, low humidity and more wind that are predicted for tomorrow could help the fire grow.

"That tells me that this is just a little vacation and tomorrow is going to get nastier," Baillie said. The best way to prepare for the fire with the limited resources available, he said, is to come up with a careful plan.

Vale agreed and said that the plan for protecting residents and structures is constantly changing with the fire.

"The fire's very dynamic, and so is the plan," Vale said. "I think a lot of good things have happened in 24 hours."

Two other smaller fires are also burning in the area. The Cliff's Gulch fire is about 25 acres in an area of the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest about 10 miles northeast of Kremmling.

The fire is burning close to heavy, beetle-killed timber. Twenty-eight workers are assigned to the fire and despite active fire behavior yesterday, officials said that containment was expected by today.

The second fire was reported in the Flattops Wilderness Area of the Routt National Forest yesterday and was being assessed last night. The fire is estimated to be about 15 acres.

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