Dryness causes fire concerns

Fire burning near Buffalo Park; smaller blazes put out

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Steamboat Springs firefighter Todd DeNoble sprays a hot spot after a grass fire in the Elk River Estates on Monday afternoon. The fire department quickly doused the flames, but they warn conditions are very dry even where the grass may look green.

— Extremely dry conditions have fire officials concerned heading into the July 4 holiday.

On Monday there was a wildfire burning in the Buffalo Park area of the Routt National Forest and a handful of smaller fires in the Steamboat Springs area.

The Buffalo Park fire was first reported Sunday and was caused by a dry lightning strike last week. "It was dry enough that it continued to smolder until the heat was right," said Lee Duerksen, a visitor information official at the U.S. Forest Service's Yampa ranger district.

Also, four grass fires were extinguished by the Steamboat Springs Fire Department on Monday. Officials with the department and the Forest Service urged caution as dry conditions are expected to continue throughout the week, with increasing wind.

The Buffalo Park fire was 15 acres wide Monday and had spread into the Sarvis Creek Wilderness.

"There is no containment yet," said Sam Duerksen, assistant fire management officer for the Routt National Forest. "We have a hard battle, with the fuels being so dry, but if everything goes well, we hope to have some containment of the fire (later Monday)."

Lee Duerksen said the fire is near the edge of the wilderness and "not really close to any community." The fire is in the vicinity of the Green Creek fire of 2002, she said.

Although the forest fire is fairly remote, smaller fires were reported in Steamboat Springs. Matt Mathisen of the fire department said the fires varied in size from 30 feet by 30 feet to 100 by 20 feet. Three were caused by a car with a backfiring muffler on Routt County Road 129 near Cullen's Corner, Mathisen said. The fourth fire was near Elk River Estates and its cause was still under investigation. Mathisen said conditions are "prime" for fires and urged people to be self-conscious and use common sense.

"The grass looks green, but it's dry," Mathisen said. "We lucked out this morning that the fires were slow burning."

Ken Ludington, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said the Weather Service has had no reports of measurable rain in the Steamboat area since June 17, when a tenth of an inch fell. The NWS recorded just 0.88 inches for the month.

The temperature Monday reached 93 degrees.

Forest Road 100 is closed between the Sarvis Creek and Silver Creek trailheads because of the Buffalo Park wildfire. A 20-person ground crew, a single engine air tanker, a helicopter, two Forest Service engines and a Kremmling Volunteer Fire Department engine were battling the fire Monday. The fire is the first of the summer in the Yampa ranger district.

Lee Duerksen said the Forest Service will be putting a fire ban into effect "soon," but did not know exactly when or how strict the ban would be. She said the Fourth of July on Wednesday - and the accompanying prevalence of fireworks - are cause for added concern.

"We really need people to be careful," Lee Duerksen said. "The size of their fires really needs to be controlled. Having a bonfire right now is a very poor idea."

County officials will consider implementing their own fire ban in a meeting next week, county commissioners said Monday.

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