Fire near Steamboat Lake growing

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— Smoke jumpers and area firefighters worked throughout the night Wednesday and Thursday battling a fire burning in the Routt National Forest about two miles west of Steamboat Lake.

The fire -- reported at 1:14 p.m. Wednesday -- had grown to about five acres by Thursday afternoon, said Rob Sexton, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Bureau of Land Management smoke jumpers from Boise, Idaho, and Forest Service crews led the initial attack on the fire Wednesday. About 45 firefighters from the agencies and the North Routt Fire Protection District worked to establish control lines around the blaze Thursday.

An ambulance transported a smoke jumper to Yampa Valley Medical Center on Wednesday because of a health issue not related to the fire, he said.

Low humidity and high winds Thursday impeded firefighters' efforts and increased concerns of burning embers being carried to unburned vegetation.

"Today is the worst combination of weather characteristics for fires," Sexton said Thursday, adding that red flag conditions were expected to continue today.

The fire started on the edge of a clearing and was burning mostly lodge pole pine, spruce and fir trees. No homes or buildings were threatened as of Thursday afternoon, Sexton said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and officials will be checking to see whether any lightning occurred in the area in the past several days, he said.

The fire serves as a reminder that despite August rains, fire danger in area forests remains serious. Prolonged drought has left vegetation dry -- trees have less than 40 percent of their usual moisture content -- so fire will burn hotter and spread more quickly than usual, Sexton said.

"It has been a quiet summer that could lead people into a false sense of security when just the opposite is the reality," Sexton said.

With hunters heading into the backcountry and droves of campers expected for the Labor Day weekend, officials are urging people to be extremely careful with fire.

Forest Service staff recently came across a campfire burning unattended at a hunting camp in the forest south of Craig, Sexton said.

"We've already seen it happen. ... That is the worst possible scenario," he said.

Even though there are no fire restrictions in place now, people should not assume there won't be any during the weekend. Six Northwest Colorado agencies periodically meet to discuss fire conditions and determine whether or not to impose restrictions, Sexton said.

"It can change any day," he said.

Sexton added that people heading to the forest this weekend should check with their local sheriff's department, state parks, fire protection districts or the Forest Service regarding any fire restrictions in place.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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