Lightning strike responsible for wildfire east of Clark

Firefighting crews stop blaze before it could spread

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— A small wildfire erupted about a mile east of Clark early Monday morning after lightning struck a tree about 2 a.m., North Routt Fire Protection District Marshal Chuck Vale said.

John Fisher of The Home Ranch reported the fire to the Routt County Dispatch Center at 9:30 a.m.

He spotted smoke coming from Whitmer Ridge on his ranch, where a 30 square-foot area, including two evergreen trees was burning, Vale said.

Firefighting crews from the volunteer North Routt Fire Protection District and the Yampa District Forest Service arrived shortly after and dug a fire line around the fire, containing it by noon, Vale said.

Firefighters stayed on the scene until the fire and heat were completely gone around 4 p.m., Vale said.

The fire was inaccessible by vehicles, so firefighters had to hike up the ridge about half a mile.

Vale said even though the ground in the area is wet, the trees are "terribly dry." He said the trees in the burn area are classified as "thousand hour fuels," because it generally takes them "a thousand hours to get wet and a thousand hours to dry."

He said if firefighters did not respond as quickly as they did, the fire could have spread quickly and become much larger with the abundance of dry fuel in that area.

Fisher, who helped firefighters dig the fire line, agreed the fire could have gotten out of control.

After a ranch hand initially asked Fisher if he was doing any burning on the ridge, Fisher said his eyes "bugged out."

"We went up to see it, and it was pretty small," Fisher said. "But if another hour went by, it would have been a different story. It was great to have the agencies respond as fast as they did."

The Steamboat Springs District Forest Service could not respond because they were busy containing a similar small fire that resulted from lightening on Rabbit Ears Pass Sunday, said Cathy Hutton, fire center manager at Craig Interagency Dispatch Center.

Fire officials have had a relatively quiet season thus far, with few fires compared to the summer of 2002.

Last year, firefighters fought several large fire at once, including the Hinman fire in North Routt which burned for months and consumed about 1,600 acres.

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