Drone grounds firefighting helicopters
September 3, 2017
NORTH ROUTT COUNTY — About 100 people continue to manage the Big Red Fire burning in North Routt County.
As of Sunday, the fire had burned 710 acres in the Routt National Forest around Big Red Park, and there will be an opportunity Monday to learn about the firefighting efforts.
A community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the North Routt Fire Protection District station at Steamboat Lake.
On Thursday, district ranger Chad Stewart and fire management officer Kevin Thompson toured the fire.
"Any south movement, we're going to suppress," Thompson said.
Firefighters are trying to keep the fire from moving into areas that have been designated as timber sales, as well as the Big Red Park meadow.
On the edge of the meadow, there is a 160-acre homestead still used as a ranch today.
North Routt Fire Protection District firefighters have been working at the fire with their new versatile engine, which has proven quite valuable.
The engine is being used to control dust on roads and to provide water to other pieces of equipment.
The engine has a camera that can detect heat from potential spot fires, which have erupted up to a half mile away from the main fire.
"With this thing: We can kill anything that gets 100 feet from the road," North Routt fire chief Mike Swinsick said.
People working at the fire include firefighters from the city of Spearfish, South Dakota, and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which was working its first fire of the season.
Firefighter safety has been a priority, and there are inherent dangers from falling trees.
"They're coming down all over the place," firefighter Calem Harper said after hearing a tree fall.
The fire continues to burn in beetle-killed trees, and officials hope it continues to burn toward the Zirkel Wilderness to the east.
The fire has typically become more active in late afternoon, even through rain storms.
"Apparently, it's raining diesel fuel," Thompson quipped, as a group of trees began torching during a storm.
Two helicopters are being used to help cool the fire, but they were grounded for two hours Saturday after an unidentified drone was spotted in the area.
"Drones in and over fires are unsafe and pose a significant risk to our pilots, crews and operations," incident commander Tom Roerick said.
Helicopters had been providing support to ground crews by dropping water on spot fires along the perimeter of the fire.
The helicopters landed immediately after the drone was discovered above the fire and resumed their operation only after the air space had been cleared.
Roerick said drone owners need to be aware of flight restrictions and stay clear of the Big Red Fire area for the foreseeable future.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland