Fire remains at 200 acres

Crews hope to keep blaze from jumping river

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The Sawtooth fire in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness remained at 200 acres Friday and fire officials hope to be able to stop it from jumping the Elk River today.

Calm winds kept the fire from spreading Friday. The lightning-sparked fire is about three miles inside the wilderness boundary near Diamond Park and is burning in dead, beetle-killed spruce trees and small patches of blowdown.

If winds stay calm today, the Forest Service will do a 50- to 75-acre burnout along the North Fork of the Elk River, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard.

A burnout is a controlled fire that is started with the intent to burn fuels in a strategic area so that once the wildland fire reaches that area, it loses momentum.

The burnout fire, which should help prevent the Sawtooth fire from jumping the Elk River, mostly will be in beetle-kill area, Ritschard said.

On Thursday, specialized firefighting teams called Hot Shots worked on creating defined fire lines and laying fire hoses that would pump water from the river to prepare for the burnout.

The fire has several natural barriers: the Hinman Fire burn, the North Fork of the river and rocky outcrops, but forest officials said there is potential for the fire to go out of the North Fork and into Encampment Meadows, where there are contagious fuels of standing dead trees, beetle-kill trees and drought-stressed trees.

The fire is burning largely to the west and partly to the north, Ritschard said.

When fire managers flew over the fire Friday, Ritschard said, they decided the burnout was the best way to control the fire.

The Sawtooth fire started more than two weeks ago but remained only a few acres in size. On Thursday, high winds caused the fire to jump from 35 to 200 acres. The North Routt Fire Protection District was called on the scene Thursday night when fire officials worried the fire was approaching the Corbett Cabin, which sits on private property at the north end of Diamond Park.

The fire didn't reach the cabin. The closest homes are about six miles away on Seedhouse Road.

Hahn's Peak/Bears District Ranger Kim Vogel said the Forest Service has known lightning would cause intense fires in the 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown area and in the beetle-kill area.

"These events are nature's way of regenerating old forests. Our challenge at this stage in the ecological process is to ensure that we manage fires in small increments to avoid huge catastrophic wildland fires that threaten people, homes or cause severe damage to natural resources," Vogel said.

The Forest Service has closed the northern half of the Zirkel Wilderness from public use. The closure shuts down the Trail Creek Trail, the West Fork Trail, the Manzanares Trail, the Buffalo Ridge Trail, the Beaver Creek and Stump Park Trail and the Big Creek Trail.

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