Steamboat Springs In a side room of the U.S. Forest Service office in Steamboat Springs, people are hunched over laptops studying maps, sitting at tables examining maps and scanning maps on the walls.
This is command central for a team of eight Forest Service officials given the task of managing the Lost Lakes fire.
They scrutinize the topography on paper so carefully because they are dealing with a different kind of fire.
The Lost Lakes fire has consumed 1,650 acres in the Flat Tops Wilderness of the Routt and White River national forests.
Officials with the Routt National Forest received permission from regional and national Forest Service officials a few days ago to allow the fire to burn within a predetermined area.
A plan is now is place to monitor the fire rather than suppress it.
No homes or property exist in the wilderness, so it makes sense to officials to not tie up resources there when higher-priority fires, where structures are threatened, demand those resources.
Allowing a natural burn promotes the health of the wilderness, said David McCandliss, deputy incident commander for the fire use team.
"It's what Mom Nature intended," he said.
But Forest Service officials want the public to know their strategy involves more than unimpeded burning.
"It's not just letting the fire burn," McCandliss said. "We're actually managing the fires."
The team determined a maximum area in which the fire could be managed and a second, larger area that would demand suppression should the fire move beyond its boundary.
The maximum manageable area encompasses 146,500 acres and the fire management unit covers 300,000 acres.
Those proposed boundaries dwarf the actual size of the fire.
Because the maximum manageable area goes in and out of wilderness area, suppression might be in order should the fire threaten any structures or valuable wildlife habitat. If the fire goes beyond the boundaries established by the fire management unit, the fire would be immediately suppressed.
The fire use team also tries to predict the path of the fire and an approximate time in the fall when the fire will stop moving.
A second fire in the wilderness area did not show much activity Thursday.
The Green Creek fire in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness crept slowly to the south with occasional flare-ups, fire information officer Punky Moore said.
The fire has consumed 2,370 and is 5 percent contained.
In the past few days, no major runs have been observed, Moore said.
Thirty-four personnel are assigned to the fire as well as air support.
Stagecoach residents can get information about the fire from updates delivered to cluster mailboxes in the area.