Vallecito Fire burns 1,000 acres in southwest Colorado

Vallecito Fire, November 3, 2012
Map showing the Vallecito Fire. The red line is the perimeter at 7:52 p.m. MT on November 1, 2012 as detected by infrared sensors in a fixed wing aircraft. The red squares represent the approximate location of heat detected by satellites at 9:38 p.m. MT November 3, 2012 and the previous six days (yellow squares).

The Vallecito Fire has burned about 1,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest near Vallecito Reservoir 16 miles northeast of Durango, Colorado. The fire started October 12, most likely from lightning, and is burning within the perimeter of the 2002 Missionary Ridge fire. Due to the hazards of falling snags and steep terrain, firefighters have opted not to attempt direct suppression of the fire, according to information on Inciweb.

Vallecito Fire and Vallecito Reservior, photo by Charlie Armiger
Vallecito Fire and Vallecito Reservior, photo by Charlie Armiger

A contingency fireline is being prepared north of the fire if it becomes necessary to stop the fire before it encroaches on homes in the Hummingbird Lane and Ho Hum Drive areas.

Yesterday Colorado state officials issued a smoke advisory for the towns of Durango, Vallecito and Bayfield which is expected to be in effect until at least 4 p.m. Sunday.

The fire is staffed by eight personnel, including the Tushar Mountain Wildland Fire Module (a 7 person crew) and a Type 3 Incident Commander. Delaying and confinement tactics will be used to minimize spread until a significant wet weather event occurs. Persistent dry weather is predicted through Friday, November 9.

Vallecito Fire, Photo by Charlie Armiger
Vallecito Fire, Photo by Charlie Armiger

BLM firefighters lead private citizens to safety

Two Bureau of Land Management firefighters led some private citizens to safety when their “exit access” was cut off by the Wetmore Fire, west of Pueblo, Colorado October 23, 2012.

(UPDATE March 6, 2013: the Lessons Learned Review has been released.)

Here is the preliminary (24 hour) report:



  • From: Keith Berger, BLM, Royal Gorge Field Office, Field Manager
  • To: BLM Colorado State Director
  • Location: Wetmore Fire, Royal Gorge Field Office
  • Date of Occurrence: Approximately 14:00 on 10/23/2012
  • FMO Robert Hurley, Front Range Interagency Fire Management Unit
  • Activity: Wildland Fire Suppression
  • Number and Type of Injury: None


On October 23, 2012 at approximately 1400 PM MDT, two Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees led a group of private citizens to safety when their exit access was cut off due to fire and smoke. The BLM employees, from the Royal Gorge Field Office Front Range Interagency Fire Management Unit located in Canon City, Colorado, were responding to the Wetmore Fire when they saw that some private citizens were unable to exit to the main highway. They guided the citizens to an area with light fuels, allowing the fire to pass by without any injuries, and were then able to lead the citizens to the highway, where they were all able to leave the fire area.

The human caused fire was reported at approximately 1300 PM MDT near the town on Wetmore, Colorado. Weather conditions during the initial attack on Tuesday afternoon were clear skies, temps 75+ degrees with southwest winds 40-45 mph with gusts to 70 mph. Fuels in the area are Ponderosa Pine, Pinion-Juniper and oak brush and grasses.

A Lessons Learned Review Team, consisting of the Colorado State Office Safety & Occupational Health Specialist, a Zone FMO from the Arapahoe-Roosevelt NF, a Forestry Tech from the Black Hills NF and a Zone FMO from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control will be conducting the investigation.

Documentary about Colorado’s Fourmile Fire

A documentary that appeared on Colorado Public Television last year about the Fourmile Fire told the story of the fire through the eyes of local residents, including the filmmaker who lived in the area. The fire burned 6,200 acres and destroyed 168 homes west of Boulder, Colorado on Labor Day in 2010.

The film is excellent and well worth your time. The story of the first four days of the fire is told almost entirely through interviews with residents, some of whom decided not to evacuate in order to take personal responsibility for protecting their own house. Others found paths around roadblocks and went into the fire area to save their own and other houses. A quartet of men self-described as gay went from house to house putting out fire as it approached homes, keeping about a half dozen from burning. The film also has some very good footage of fire activity.

After it was over, I realized that the film did not show or interview a single professional or volunteer firefighter. I believe it had a photograph of one fire truck. It did have a small amount of audio of firefighters giving a sizeup on the radio during the early stages of the fire. Ms. Michelle Bauer Carpenter, who directed, produced and edited the film told Wildfire Today that she attempted to interview numerous firefighters but they all declined to participate.

We have embedded the documentary below.

Here is a list of the articles on Wildfire Today that mention “Fourmile”.

Below is the description of the film from YouTube:


Published on YouTube Oct 16, 2012 by Michelle Carpenter

Above the Ashes is an award winning documentary that reveals untold heroes, the strength of mountain communities and the devastation caused by the catastrophic Fourmile fire.

Above the Ashes documents the Fourmile fire through the eyes of Sunshine residents who joined together to fight fire, taking action and saving numerous homes in the Sunshine community. Using haunting visuals Above the Ashes reveals tales of bravery, family, friends, loss and the rebuilding of a community.

A long time Boulder resident Michelle Bauer Carpenter and her family live in the historic mining town site of Sunshine located in the Fourmile fire burn area. “The losses our friends suffered are absolutely heartbreaking. Over half of the homes in our neighborhood were lost to the fire. As soon as we were allowed home I began documenting the devastation”.

Above the Ashes was directed, produced and edited by video artist Michelle Bauer Carpenter, presently assistant professor in Digital Design at the University of Colorado Denver College of Arts and Media.

Above the Ashes features original score by Brandon Vaccaro and closes with the musical piece Smoke and Tears composed by long time Sunshine resident and nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Rebecca Folsom. The piece features a haunting 5.1 surround sound mix by sound editor and re-recording mixer David Bondelevitch, MPSE, CAS.

Above the Ashes was recently awarded two Heartland Chapter Emmy Awards in the categories of best topical documentary and best program editing. The Heartland Chapter is a chapter in the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS)

and the Emmy Award represents the best in the television industry. The entries were judged by seven chapters from across the county and included San Francisco/Northern California, Miami/Suncoast, Chicago, Michigan, Lone Star, Mid Atlantic, and the Rocky Mountain Southwest chapters.

For more information please visit

Morning briefing, October 29, 2012

CAL FIRE Line of Duty Death

A Battalion Chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has died while on duty. Battalion Chief Rob Van Wormer, 47, who was based in Santa Clara County was working on an investigation when he suddenly lost consciousness and died, despite numerous attempt to revive him. Chief Van Wormer had worked for CAL FIRE for 24 years conducting investigations and also had a long history in the aviation program.

Ken Pimlott, Chief of CAL FIRE, released a statement.

Our sincere condolences go out to the Chief’s family and coworkers.

Man charged with felony trash burning

The Cortez Journal reports that Roger Stratton has been charged with felony fourth-degree arson for allowing his trash fire to get out of control, which started the 400-acre Roatcap Fire in Colorado’s Montezuma County. The fire started Wednesday morning and forced the evacuation of about 30 homes.

Sid Beckman named FMO for National Park Service’s Pacific West Region

(From the NPS)

Sid Beckman has been selected as the new fire management officer for Pacific West Region (map of NSP Regions), working out of the San Francisco office. He replaces Sue Husari, who recently retired after 39 years of exemplary federal service. Beckman has a strong background in fire management planning, operations and incident management. His experience in prescribed fire and wildland fire management will be an asset to the region.

Beckman has three years of experience working for the National Park Service. He has been the deputy regional fire management officer overseeing the region’s fuels management program since 2009. He previously served as a fire management specialist in the U.S. Forest Service Enterprise Program. He has also worked as a battalion chief with the Stanislaus National Forest and has had a variety of other fire management positions, including fuels management specialist, hotshot, and fire engine operator on the Angeles and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests.

“I am honored to work with the dedicated fire management staffs in the national parks of the Pacific West Region, and look forward in assisting them in their continued success managing prescribed and wildland fire,” Beckman commented upon hearing of his selection.

Beckman lives with his wife in the Sierra Nevada town of Arnold, California, and will be residing in the Bay Area during the week. When in the mountains, he enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing. A lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, Beckman also noted that “the Tigers have won 10 World Series — four more than the San Francisco Giants!”

Currently the acting FMO, Beckman will formally begin his new assignment in November.

Response by the land management agencies and firefighters to the effects of Hurricane Sandy

On Monday we will put together some information about how the land management agencies and firefighters are responding to prepare for and help the east coast recover from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. If you have information about firefighters and incident management teams that are responding, let us know in a comment below, or visit our Contact Us page to give us a call (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MT) or send us a message.

Fern Lake fire slowed by snow

Fern Lake Fire
Big horn sheep posing in front of the Fern Lake Fire, October 22, 2012. NPS photo by Greg Venturini

The Fern Lake Fire which has been burning in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado since November 17, has grown to 1,030 acres but was slowed by a couple inches of snow Wednesday. While some areas on the east flank were still active on Thursday, another one to two inches of snow is predicted for Thursday night, to be followed by a dry, windy period this weekend.

Fern Lake Fire, October 22, 2012
Fire Module 32 on Trail Ridge Road, Fern Lake Fire, October 22, 2012. NPS photo by Matt Mueller
Fern Lake Fire - October 22, 2012
Fern Lake Fire heating up on the afternoon of October 22, 2012. NPS Photo by Matt Mueller


Report released on Colorado Springs’ Waldo Canyon Fire

Waldo Canyon After Action ReportAn After Action Report (AAR) was released today about the Waldo Canyon Fire that burned into Colorado Springs June 26, destroying 345 homes and ultimately blackening over 18,000 acres. This AAR is not the final, comprehensive report on the fire, but is considered preliminary. An in-depth analysis will occur over the next several months to fully explore Colorado Spring’s management of the fire.

The organization of the report is a little unusual, listing strengths and recommendations, but omitting many of the issues that caused the recommendations. Therefore, it is not always clear WHY the recommendations were made, forcing an observer to read between the lines. This limits the opportunities for lessons learned and may not in all cases have the desired result of preventing mistakes. Maybe the final report will fill in these gaps.

The report listed several areas identified as “major strengths”, including interagency cooperation, dedicated personnel, pre-incident training and exercises, planning, and the fact that they saved 82 percent of the homes in the direct impact area.

Some of the recommendations:

  • A system needs to be designed to provide immediate notification to first responders and key agency representatives as decisions are made.
  • Real-time documentation. Use “scribes” to track real-time information for record keeping and serve as a communication link between locations when primary staff is busy with their duties.
  • Train staff and volunteers who can serve in the Emergency Operations Center to staff a more robust Logistics Section.
  • Provide additional training on the use of the Incident Command System (ICS).
  • A Communications Unit Leader should be assigned to ensure that an incident-wide Communications Plan is developed.
  • Exercise the numerous emergency management plans. The report listed seven of them.
  • For the Emergency Operations Center, develop an organization chart early in the incident, and train the personnel on their roles and how to interface with the Incident Command Post.
  • Develop a plan on how to provide adequate food to incident personnel.
  • Establish procedures for handling large quantities of donated food and water. Provide incident management training for non-profits and agency personnel to improve management of volunteers and donations.
  • Develop a plan to ensure incident personnel work consistent shifts and receive adequate rest, breaks, and rehabilitation (food and supplies).
  • Evaluate the need for post-incident critical stress debriefings.
  • Develop an ICS organization chart to ensure that a Safety Officer and Accountability Officer are assigned.
  • Ensure that span of control policies are followed.
  • Utilize Staging Areas to assist in accountability of personnel and resources.
  • Use street names rather than neighborhood names to define evacuation boundaries.
  • Provide maps of areas that are being evacuated to first responders.

In reviewing the recommendations in the ARR, it appears that many of them would be mitigated with adequate training and experience in the Incident Command System, NIMS, or NIIMS. A Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire at the end of Day 2, June 24; most of the homes were destroyed on June 26. The team was no doubt very fluent in the use of ICS, but if they were interfacing with multiple agencies who had limited knowledge in the management system, there could have been some inefficiencies and a lack of adherence to ICS protocols.

You can download the entire 1.7 MB After Action Report.

HERE is a link to articles on Wildfire Today that mention both “Waldo Canyon” and “Colorado Springs”.