Wildfire burns in Zirkel Wilderness


A lightning-sparked wildfire burning in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area has forced the closure of about 35,000 acres of public land, U.S. Forest Service officials said Tuesday.

The Wolverine Fire was 5 acres when first detected Monday, but the fire is expected to grow to several hundred acres by tonight. Aided by warm weather, high winds and low humidity, the fire could continue to grow significantly, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said.

The fire area is a couple miles due east of Clark, which is about 15 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Smoke probably will be visible throughout areas of Routt and Jackson counties. Smoke from the fire was visible in Steamboat this afternoon.

The fire is east of the south fork of the Elk River and northwest of Wolverine Basin. It is burning in steep and rugged terrain dominated by spruce and fir stands, about 40 percent of which have been killed by beetle infestations.

The fire is north of the Burn Ridge Fire area and about 3 ½ miles south of the Hinman Fire area. Those fires burned during summer 2002.

The blaze isn't threatening any structures or roads, Ritschard said. However, a number of trails near the fire have been closed to keep people -- including hunters -- out of harm's way.

"A fire can move pretty quickly in dead trees," Ritschard said. "We don't want to end up in an emergency situation where people are in the vicinity of a fast-moving fire."

Forest Service officials and employees have been attempting to contact people already in the area to ask them to leave, Ritschard said. Cars parked at trailheads within and near the closure area are cluing Forest Service officials to the general locations of hikers and hunters who might be in the area.

The closure could impact recreational hikers and hunters during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, Ritschard said. The archery hunting season already has begun. A high-country buck season also has started in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

Susan Werner, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said 50 licensed hunters are within the boundaries of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. She does not know how many of those hunters planned to use the area that now is closed.

The fire is being allowed to burn within predetermined boundaries to benefit natural resources, Ritschard said. Fires rejuvenate older forests by clearing out old, dead and downed material and allowing new vegetation to grow.

The fire is being monitored by helicopter. No fire crews have been sent to area.

Trail closures include:

North Lake Trail, No. 1164

Three Island Trail, No. 1163

Wyoming Trail, No. 1101, between Gold Lake Trail south to Rainbow Lake Trail 1130

Red Canyon Trail, No. 1131

Lake Katherine Trail, No. 1157

Bear Lake Trail, No. 1159

Big Horn Lake Trail, No. 1040

Lone Pine Trail, No. 1129

Roxy Ann Trail, No. 1179

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com


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