Strategic withdrawal on the Horse Park Fire in Colorado

Horse Park Fire

Above: screenshot from the Hotchkiss Fire District video.

(UPDATE at 6:38 a.m. MDT May 31, 2018)

The Bureau of Land Management has released a 24-Hour Preliminary Report indicating that during initial attack on the Horse Park Fire in southwest Colorado May 27, 2018 a command vehicle was abandoned and is thought to be a total loss. The driver was turning around when the vehicle got stuck. Due to the advancing fire, the driver and passenger had to flee on foot. There were no reports of injuries.

In the second video below (at 0:06) you can hear a radio conversation about losing a vehicle but the firefighters made it out.


Originally published at 10:53 a.m. MDT May 29, 2018.

In the three days since the Horse Park Fire started in Southwest Colorado it has burned about 1,500 acres. It’s not a huge fire yet but at times has shown some pretty aggressive fire behavior for the month of May in Colorado.

In the two videos below shot May 27 and posted by the Hotchkiss Fire District you can see that in spite of the date on the calendar firefighters were forced to make a strategic withdrawal when the rapidly spreading fire started moving in their direction.

Warning: the second video has some coarse language as firefighters are being encouraged to relocate.

The Horse Park Fire is burning at about 8,000′ in a very remote area 15 miles southwest of Norwood and 40 miles west of Telluride. Jay Esperance’s Type 2 Incident Management Team has arrived and will in-brief at 10 a.m. today.

Horse Park Fire map
Map showing the location of the Horse Park Fire in southwest Colorado at 3:42 a.m. MDT May 28, 2018. Click to enlarge.

Above normal wildfire activity for most of Southern Colorado was predicted when the latest Wildland Fire Potential Outlook was released by the National Interagency Fire Center on May 1. At that time the conditions were expected to continue through June in Colorado. We should have an updated outlook on June 1.

wildfire potential May
Issued May 1, 2018.

Below are the temperature and precipitation outlooks for June 5 through 11.

temperature precipitation outlook

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

12 thoughts on “Strategic withdrawal on the Horse Park Fire in Colorado”

  1. I would just call that moving to a better location. I didn’t know there was a special term, strategic withdrawal. Looks like dangerous rate of spread! 😉

  2. Listen closely to the radio traffic and you can hear them say they got firefighters out but lost a vehicle.

  3. Strategic withdraw? Is this a new concept being taught now? Sounds like a tip of the time wedge strategy .

  4. I do not like the “Strategic Withdrawal” term at all. This term implies this was planned and it appears it was not.

  5. With tongue in cheek, I borrowed the term “strategic withdrawal” from the military. It can be planned or unplanned, and may be used when a person is reluctant to use the term “retreat”. Here is how Wikipedia introduces the topic:

    “A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush. It is considered a relatively risky operation, requiring discipline to keep from turning into a disorganized rout or at the very least doing severe damage to the military’s morale.”

    A strategic or tactical withdrawal is a variation:

    “A withdrawal may be anticipated, as when a defending force is outmatched or on disadvantageous ground, but must cause as much damage to an enemy as possible. In such a case, the retreating force may employ a number of tactics and strategies to further impede the enemy’s progress. This could include setting mines or booby traps during or before withdrawal, leading the enemy into prepared artillery barrages, or the use of scorched earth tactics.”

  6. Brings up another point. Why even be in a position like that when they felt like they had to move out quickly (from the video, it appears they didn’t have to hurry to get out). But if you have to hurry to get away, (a) you put everyone at risk by hurrying and (b) don’t put yourself in that position in the first place. Clearly there was nothing they were going to be able to do, based on the video. Leave sooner, then you don’t have to hurry. Another example of putting yourself at risk when there’s fuel between you and the fire.

  7. Hmm. Makes me wonder if Jeff has ever been on a fire line. You put yourself in that position because your goal is to control and contain the fire, as much as possible. You can’t do that without some proximity.
    Fire doesn’t always cooperate. In that case, you need to move out fast. Yes, hurrying can create extra risk, but the consequences of not hurrying can be much more severe. If you’ve never seen a fire turn or run, you might not appreciate the intensity of the situation.

  8. 41 years of experience all across the west on the ground in dozens of similar situations, including as a DIVS, where I learned when and where to be and not to be, that has kept me in one piece. Making smart decisions and knowing fire behavior is critical in meeting your objectives. Remember, it’s only brush.

  9. I expect they had a previously identified trigger point which would establish a withdrawl so it could be planned. Hectic doesn’t mean unplanned.

  10. It seems like there is a secondary road off to the right. They were likely hoping for an opportunity for a burn out to help contain or herd the head of the fire. Common tactic in PJ fires.

  11. Maybe we ought to wait for the FLA before speculating and armchair analyzing the situation from a video with little context.

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