95 % contained Wednesday; full control expected Saturday
by Eric Mullens
HUERFANO COUNTY — Friday, March 2 was a textbook example of a Red Flag warning day with unseasonably high temperature, gusty winds in the 40 mph range, and humidity in the low single digits; and then, at about 2 pm the Huerfano County emergency dispatch center began receiving calls of visible smoke seen near the base of the East Peak.
Upon report of those first tendrils of smoke, Huerfano County Fire Protection District firefighters and county deputies were dispatched into the far end area of HC Road 330 (Ideal Road). When the wildland fire was discovered off of CR 317, the first arriving deputy described the wind whipped fire as being the size of three or four football fields. The deputy checked the only residential structure in the area and found it unoccupied. The fire direction moved away from that home, which was described as a residence that was rebuild after the original building was destroyed by the East Peak Fire of 2013. Shortly after arrival, firefighters indicated the CR317 fire had grown to an estimated 12 to 15 acres and was burning in heavy dry grass, brush and light timber.
Firefighters engaged the blaze where they could Friday afternoon and soon the call went out to Huerfano County Road and Bridge requesting heavy equipment be brought to the site to cut firelines. The mechanized fireline was cut into the southern and western portion of the fire as firefighters worked to suppress the blaze on its flanks.
By Friday evening, a successful burnout operation was conducted using existing service roads and the fireline to consume unburned fuels between the fire’s edge and containment lines. As the wind continued to blow, the call was made to area agencies for assistance and to others to stand by for anticipated calls for help.
Help came both on the ground and in the air. According to one of the Incident Commanders, HCFPD Captain Fred Partee, the Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control provided their (MMA) “Multi Mission Aircraft” to the fire on Friday to assist with assessment and date for tactical planning.
The specialized aircraft would return with another sortie on Saturday and mapped the area which resulted in a size downgrade from 70 to 66 acres involved. Saturday afternoon the “MMA” aircraft identified two additional areas of concern that ground forces quickly addressed and worked. The other CR317 Fire Incident Commander at the scene was HCFPD Chief Gerald Jerant.
Partee reported at the height of the fire, 12 apparatus, 26 personnel , one aircraft and multiple pieces of heavy equipment were assigned to the incident. Agencies who responded to the call for assistance from Huerfano County Fire included; LaVeta FPD, Huerfano County Road and Bridge, Spanish Peaks/BonCarbo FD, Gardner FD (UHFPD), US Forest Service, Huerfano County OEM and the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control – Wildland Fire Management DFPC who operate the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.
On Sunday March 4, containment had been increased to 70%. Crews actively patrolled the fire throughout Sunday afternoon. By the late evening hours smoke from the blaze had dissipated.
By Monday, March 5, a 90% containment of the CR 317 Fire was announced, and Huerfano County firefighters were placed on monitor status. Partee told the World Journal Monday morning, that area residents were also keeping their eyes on the fire location and would report any flare-ups.
Partee also said early in the week the cause of the fire had not been determined. Partee reported 95% containment on Wednesday. Firefighters will monitor the area throughout the week and 100% control, meaning no heat left on the ground, is expected by Saturday.