Prescribed fire in Larimer County, Colorado escapes; evacuations ordered

The Elk Fire is 6 miles southeast of Red Feather Lakes

The Elk Fire
The Elk Fire. CBS Copter 4, October 16, 2019.

12:42 p.m. MDT October 17, 2019

A prescribed fire at a scout ranch escaped control in Colorado on Wednesday forcing residents out of their homes. The Elkhorn Creek Forest Health Initiative and Nature Conservancy Colorado were conducting the “Elkhorn 4 Prescribed Burn” at the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch near Red Feather Lakes south of W. County Road 74e and road 68c.

Thursday morning the Larimer County Sheriff’s office reported that the fire, which was named Elk, had not grown much overnight. The total size of the incident was 622 acres which included 472 acres within the project boundary.

At noon on Thursday mandatory evacuation orders were still in place for Glacier View Gates 7 through 13. One shed has been damaged and 50 homes are threatened.

The Elk Fire is in north-central Colorado 6 miles southeast of Red Feather Lakes and 20 miles northwest of Fort Collins. (see map below)

Elk Fire map
Map showing heat detected on the Elk Fire by a satellite at 3:30 a.m. Oct. 17, 2019.

In addition to firefighters on the ground the fire was attacked by aircraft including at least one large air tanker (RJ85 Tanker 163) and a single engine air tanker.

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. Google+

13 thoughts on “Prescribed fire in Larimer County, Colorado escapes; evacuations ordered”

  1. So, the Elkhorn Creek Forest Health Initiative and Nature Conservancy Colorado will be prosecuted and forced to pay all costs associated with their keystone cops, err, keystone fire department, “prescribed fire”, right?

  2. Adjacent areas were under Red Flag Warnings, but those responsible obviously could not apply enough common sense to realize the same conditions that prompted those warnings would make controlling their prescribed burn more difficult.

    The legal term for this irresponsible behavior is negligence.

    1. Yup, never done it myself, but I’m an Expert critic after the fact. Anyone who has extensive prescribed fire experience has lost 1 or more in their career. Me too.

  3. If you think running a prescribed burn in an area surrounded by red flag warnings is a good idea, you’re simply an idiot.

    I’ve been in this industry for 40 years, so I’m not some “Yup, never done it myself, but I’m an Expert critic after the fact” as you foolishly claim. What I AM IS A RESPONSIBLE PROFESSIONAL. Something that YOU obviously know NOTHING about.

    I’ve NEVER lost even 1, so your pandering BS is just that, BS.

  4. The answers are as clear as the nose on your face: stop all prescribed burning; re-institute the 10 acre/10 AM policy; rake the forest more; clear cut the forests, pave them and paint them green; and ignore climate change/global warming. The Earth is not getting warmer and drier, and fire seasons are not longer and more intense. See, the problem of escaped prescribed fires is solved. There will never be any fires over 10 acres, and we can all live in the WUI, happily ever after..

  5. The use of Prescribed fire has proven itself time and time again as an important forest management tool. That said, land management agencies both public and private sector continue to lose public and regulatory credibility regarding RxB escapes and air quality violations. Rx Fire program Managers and Burn Bosses must be held accountable for poor management decisions. It is unacceptable to tell the public that escaped RxBs and air quality violations are simply an acceptable professional risk! If the trend continues, I RxB will be regulated out of existence. Be accountable for the entire operation when one lights the driptorch. Use all the scientific tools now available before ignition but never forget common sense based on fuels, weather and topography before putting the match to the ground.

  6. It’s sooo easy to blame a Burn Boss when things don’t work as planned. I seldom if ever hear any kudos thrown out for all of the burns completed without a hitch. Have any of us actually seen the plan and prescription? Remember what the Burn Boss job really is….

    The Prescribed Fire Burn Boss Type 2 (RXB2) ensures that all prescribed fire plan specifications are met before, during, and after a low or moderate complexity prescribed fire. The RXB2 is responsible to the Agency Administrator, prescribed fire manager, Fire Management Officer (FMO), or local fire management organization for implementing the prescribed fire plan. The RXB2 works in the Prescribed Fire functional area.

    All prescribed fire operations shall be conducted in accordance with the Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Procedures Guide, PMS 484, and applicable federal, state, and tribal policies.

    Are you looking for someone to blame for something that you are unhappy with or are you simply against prescribed fire? Prescribed fire can be used for a combination of reasons to include ecological benefit and for hazardous fuels reduction. Are either of those objectives not socially acceptable? NO….it’s just that sometimes the outcome can be when things don’t work in our favor.

  7. Old Parky—You are 100% correct stating that the Burn Boss is implementing a RxB plan that was signed off by some sort of Agency Representative, RxMngr, FMO etc. No I’m not looking blaming the Burn Boss. Two points, first, one better have read the official burn plan regardless if your the Agency Administrators or the Ignition Specialist. It’s your signature and/or professional reputation on the line— no pun intended. If your agency/department does not require or offer you a copy of the RxB plan this is irresponsible resource management. This is Simply common sense and walk away. The Burn Boss has the authority and responsibility to cancel ignition if the project is not in fire behavior, air quality prescription or has a unmitigated project safety concern, stop ignition or modify ignition. That is acting in a professional, responsible and accountable wildland fire management position. Current and expected Fire weather and fire behavior forecasts should be the critical Go/No Go decision maker not meeting some RxB project target objective or mandate that is often dollar driven. That said I am also aware of RxB projects that were out of prescription even before ignition and the Agency Administrator/FMO sitting in an air conditioned office ordered the Rx Burn Boss on the ground to continue igniting which ultimately resulted in an escaped fire(s). Sometimes you have to stand up for what is right and simply say NO I am not going to light the burn. At the end of the day you will still have a job, you did what was morally and professionally correct and one lives to fight another day. I have done it in my 34+ fire management/control year. No regrets either!

  8. How about we all wait for the escaped fire investigation and report before passing judgement. Escaped Rx fires negatively affect all users of Rx fire. There are Rx professionals that will review this incident and the circumstances that led to the escape and provide a detailed report for review. I’m as anxious for the facts as all of you.

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