Winter Valley Fire closes Highway 40 in Colorado

By Thursday night the Winter Valley Fire had burned 5,200 acres.

(UPDATED at 3:11 p.m. MDT September 22, 2017)

U.S. Highway 40 that was closed by the Winter Valley Fire in northwest Colorado has opened, according to the Bureau of Land Management.


Winter Valley Fire map
Map showing the perimeter of the Winter Valley Fire at 6:55 p.m. MDT September 21, 2017. BLM.

(Originally published at 11:28 a.m. MDT September 22, 2017)

A fire that was reported around noon Thursday just southeast of Elk Springs, Colorado spread quickly during the afternoon pushed by very strong winds gusting up to 50 mph. During the afternoon and night the wind was out of the south and southwest as the fire crossed Highway 40 and marched 10 miles to Cross Mountain to come within 15 miles of Maybell, Colorado.

The Calico weather station northwest of Elk Springs where these wind readings were recorded detected a major shift in conditions Friday morning. At 7 a.m. the wind had calmed to a slight breeze from the west and the relative humidity that had plummeted to 14 percent on Thursday had risen by 9:53 a.m. to 79 percent. The station also measured 0.02″ of precipitation at that time. A weather station in Dinosaur National Monument about 30 miles to the northwest of the fire recorded 0.15″ of precipitation Friday morning.

At about 9 p.m. on Thursday the Bureau of Land Management reported that the fire had burned 5,200 acres and was actively burning on Cross Mountain.

The incident closed U.S. Highway 40 in both directions after 2 p.m. from Maybell to Elk Springs, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

A BLM spokesperson said about 25 to 30 residences in the Deerlodge area were threatened by the fire and evacuations took place Thursday.

map winter valley fire
The brown and red dots represent heat detected by a satellite as late as 2:47 a.m. (the red dots) September 22, 2017. The brown dots were detected at 2:30 p.m. September 21. However, the fire is many times larger than shown here because the light fuels in the area burn quickly and can cool before the next satellite overpass, which happens about twice a day.

The fire, in BLM jurisdiction, is being managed by a Type 3 Incident Management Team. The agency reports that about half a dozen gas wells were within the perimeter of the blaze. A Federal Aviation Administration tower was also threatened.

U.S. Highway 40 photo
Photo from Google Maps in the general area where the Winter Valley Fire crossed U.S. Highway 40.

About 150 personnel, including two Hotshot crews, are assigned or en route to the fire Friday.

Maybell, Colorado
Downtown Maybell, Colorado, about 15 miles northeast of the fire. Photo from Google Maps.

Red Flag Warnings, September 22, 2017

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings in only one state today, Colorado.

The map was current as of 10:15 a.m. MDT on Friday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

Important bridge that burned in Parker 2 fire replaced in a matter of days

Above: The Middle Fork Parker Creek bridge after the Parker 2 Fire moved through the area. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

(Originally published at 1:50 p.m. MDT September 21, 2017)

(From the U.S. Forest Service)

As a wildfire rages across a forest, fire engines and heavy equipment travel swiftly along forest roads to get to the fire line. They arrive at the main bridge they need to cross, only to find it has burned and is impassible. This is not part of a storyline in a movie, it was reality for firefighters assigned to the Parker 2 Fire 10 miles east of Alturas, California on the Modoc National Forest (MNF) in August 2017.

Parker 2 Fire bridge burned replace
File photo of the Middle Fork Parker Creek bridge earlier this year, before the fire. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

When firefighters discovered the burned bridge in the Warner Mountains, they reported it to the Incident Management Team (IMT). Heather McRae, working as the Operations Section Chief Trainee on the IMT, remembered that there was an unused bridge being stored at the Ashe Creek Guard Station on the nearby Shasta-Trinity National Forest (SHF). When she isn’t working on fires, Heather works as the Prescribed Fire and Fuels Specialist on the SHF. Heather quickly relayed to the MDF about the possible replacement bridge.

Upon hearing about the unused bridge, MDF Roads Engineer, Alvin Sarmiento, coordinated with SHF Engineer, Virginia Jones, to investigate if the bridge would fit the span needed. Shortly thereafter, MNF was sending their construction and maintenance crew over to load the bridge and transport it to the Warner Mountains.

Parker 2 Fire bridge burned replace
A dozer prepares a foundation for the replacement bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

Understanding the urgent need for the bridge to be in place to help firefighters battle the Parker 2 Fire, the IMT prioritized the resources needed to move it into place. From the time construction actually began, to the time the bridge was crossed by the first firefighters, only five days had passed.

“This was an incredible team effort. We tapped into the power of the IMT ordering and buying team, supply specialists and ground support for picking up and delivering parts, the operations section for providing invaluable contract equipment and operators, and our local road crew,” said Chris Bielecki, Forest Engineer on the MDF. “And it still amazes me that the bridge was available in the first place, and that it was the right size. This experience was definitely a career highlight for me.”

Parker 2 Fire bridge burned replace
Placing mechanically stabilized earth “baskets” and filling with crushed rock to form an abutment for the bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

While sharing resources among national forests isn’t something new to the Forest Service, the sharing and placement of physical structures like this bridge in the middle of an emergency is unique.

“When it comes to fighting fire or responding to other emergencies, if we can help another forest in their time of need, we will do it every time,” said Dave Myers, Forest Supervisor for the SHF.

Parker 2 Fire bridge burned replace
The new bridge is put into place allowing firefighters access to the ongoing wildfire. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)
Parker 2 Fire bridge burned replace
The first firefighters to cross the newly placed bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

The Parker 2 Fire was contained at 7,697 acres.

Red Flag Warnings, September 21, 2017

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches in a rather unusual pattern for areas in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas.

The maps were current as of 10:30 a.m. MDT on Thursday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

Estimated precipitation
Estimated precipitation during the 48-hour period ending at 10:30 a.m. MDT September 21, 2017.

Drill baby drill — training for an incident within an incident

The Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team #2 posted this video about training, or conducting a drill, for a medical emergency at an Incident Command Post — an “incident within an incident”.

Report released for dozer operator who went missing

He deployed a fire shelter on the Pleasant Fire in California.

Above: photo from the CAL FIRE report.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has released a “Green Sheet” preliminary report on an incident within an incident that occurred on the Pleasant Fire north of Nevada City, California August 30, 2017.

About half an hour after beginning work constructing fireline downhill, increasing fire activity forced a contractor-owned dozer to disengage. The operator walked the machine through unburned vegetation to a small cleared area near a greenhouse but after arriving, a burst hydraulic line leaked fluid which ignited, producing smoke and flames in the cab. He attempted to extinguish this new fire with an extinguisher, but failed, then exited the dozer and deployed a fire shelter as the main fire approached.

For about an hour no one on the fire knew where the dozer and operator were, in spite of numerous attempts on the radio to contact him and aerial searches by Air Attack and a helicopter. After an hour the operator used his hand-held radio to announce that the dozer sustained a hydraulic failure and he deployed a shelter, but he was unable to describe his location. Eight minutes later a helicopter spotted him and led ground personnel to the scene.

The operator complained of coughing, dizziness, and weakness. After being assessed by medical personnel, he walked downhill to an ALS ambulance for transport to a local hospital where he was treated and released.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
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