In June, we watched as the Hayman and Coal Seam fires wreaked havoc near Denver and Glenwood Springs. Smoke from fires near Durango and in Arizona shrouded our mountain views for days.
At any moment, we knew the situation could be the same here.
The U.S. Forest Service told us for weeks conditions were as dangerous as they had ever been, that moisture content in the fuel in the Routt National Forest had been measured at just 7 percent, about as low as it had ever gotten. And as June slipped into July, the temperature topped 90 degrees day after day without a hint of rain.
Wildfire was no longer a question of if but when.
Still, as smoke from four fires in Routt County swirled around Steamboat Springs on July 15, it was hard not to be shocked and a little unnerved.
Thankfully, fire officials responded quickly and aggressively, and a situation that could have gotten much worse never did.
The Hinman fire still burning north of Steamboat Springs came within 1.5 miles of homes along Seedhouse Road and got up to 1,950 acres. At one point last week, officials were telling residents to be ready to evacuate. But it never came to that. Thanks to the work of a crew that grew to as many as 450 firefighters, no structures were damaged, no one was injured and no one was forced to flee their homes.
Now the Hinman fire is more than 60 percent contained and full containment is expected today.
Similarly, the Green Creek, Lost Lakes and Big Fish fires south and east of Steamboat have burned thousands of acres but have not damaged any structures and no one has been hurt. While smoke from the fires circled Steamboat and made things particularly uncomfortable for a couple of days last week in South Routt, the fires never got to the point of being a threat to residents.
Fighting wildfires is hot, dirty work. On the ground, these firefighters generally spend their days manning axes and shovels not hoses clearing brush and digging lines to stop the fire's spread. In the air, pilots in older planes and helicopters make flight after flight to drop water and slurry on the fires.
There isn't a lot of rest for firefighters this time of year. Already many of the men and women who have spent long day after long day battling the Routt County fires are being sent to battle more pressing fires, such as the one near Estes Park.
Fighting wildfires is difficult and dangerous work and doesn't come with a lot of rewards. As the firefighters who worked to protect our property for the last several days begin departing, the one reward we can offer them is our thanks.