Steamboat Springs Property owners north of Steamboat Springs on Monday got a reminder of just how unpredictable fire can be.
Firefighters in Steamboat were called to help put out two agricultural burns that quickly blew out of control not too far from each other in Strawberry Park.
The fires burned in close proximity to some homes and structures in the area between Routt County Roads 36 and 38A, but flames were kept at bay by firefighters and property owners who pitched in with big buckets of water.
“I think everyone out there today was surprised at how fast the fire was moving in a pretty green field,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said of the first fire that started as a controlled burn of irrigation ditches off C.R. 38A.
While the Yampa Valley continues to look more green and lush, Struble said a week of wind actually has dried out some top soil and fire fuels.
The volatility comes as ranchers across the county continue to burn slash piles and clear ditches as they do every year.
“I'd urge people to really be cautious and really pay attention to the weather,” Struble said. “We've all got to be really cautious of the weather and the winds, and not to burn any more than we think we can safely handle.”
Struble said in Monday's fires, the creation of protective fire lines could have helped prevent the flames from spreading.
“With all the dead grass, the minute the wind shifted, the fire had all the fuel to shift it and take it into the willows,” he said.
A fire line, such as those made of bare soil clear of any vegetation, can prevent such a thing from happening.
Struble said the second fire in the area was caused by a property owner who was doing some fire mitigation around his property by burning dry vegetation.
Struble said the man saw a neighbor was burning on his property and thought the conditions were suitable for a controlled burn. But wind carried that fire into dry willows and caused it to spread.
“He was surprised how dry it was and how the wind carried the fire,” Struble said. “He wasn't expecting that to happen.”
To learn more about how to safely do a controlled burn in Routt County, read below.
Agricultural burns in Routt County
Before starting a fire, the Routt County Office of Emergency Management advises property owners to contact the Routt County Communications Center at 970-879-1110 and provide the following information: location, size of area to be burned, start/finish time, material to be burned and property ownership.
The office also has the following recommendations for burns:
• Know the predicted weather conditions for your burn day — erratic winds quickly can push a fire out of control in dry fuels.
• Don’t burn on windy days.
• Notify your neighbors so they don’t call in a false fire report.
• Have a shovel and water with you to extinguish the fire.
• Clear and remove debris down to bare soil around power poles and state right-of-way fences to keep fire from damaging these structures.
• Dig a fire line where you want the fire to stop if vegetation is continuous and will carry the fire beyond your planned burn area.
• Never leave a fire unattended.
If you have questions, call your fire department:
• North Routt Fire Protection District: 970-879-6064
• Oak Creek Fire Protection District: 970-736-8104
• West Routt Fire Protection District: 970-276-3796
• Yampa Fire Protection District: 970-638-4227
• Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue: 970-871-8216 or 970-879-7170
Source: Routt County Office of Emergency Management
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10