Report released for escaped prescribed fire northwest of Fort Collins, CO

The project was on private land, the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch

Elk Fire Map
Map showing the location of the escaped prescribed fire in northern Colorado, which was named Elk after the escape.

A five-page report described as an executive summary has been released for a prescribed fire that escaped on private land last fall in Colorado. As required by state law, the review was completed by a team of subject matter experts led by the Compliance and Professional Standards Office of the state’s Department of Public Safety.

The Nature Conservancy planned and executed the Elkhorn Creek Unit #4 prescribed fire that took place on the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch, private property located in Larimer County, Colorado 25 miles northwest of Fort Collins. It was part of a forest restoration effort aimed to reduce the impact of high severity wildfire on Elkhorn Creek, an important tributary of the Poudre River.

On day two of the project a spot fire occurred an hour after cloud cover moved out of the area. It was suppressed, but later two more ignited.

Below are excerpts from the report:

Located in dry, dead grass on a steep slope aligned with strong westerly winds, these two spots quickly grew together and began spreading rapidly away from the unit towards the Glacier View community to the east. Leadership personnel, quickly determining that on-site resources would not be able to contain the fire, immediately ordered ground and aerial resources and then declared the wildfire at 3:59 PM. In total, the fire burned 682 acres, with 118 acres outside of the planned boundaries of the project and 82 acres off the Scout Ranch property. One outbuilding was destroyed by the fire.


Recommendations for All Prescribed Fire Practitioners

1.  A strong understanding of fire weather is critical to mitigating risk and responding to changing conditions. Review fire weather concepts presented in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Intermediate Wildland Fire Weather Behavior (S-290) course and fire weather data acquisition and analysis concepts presented in the NWCG Intermediate National Fire Danger Rating System (S-491) course before each fire season utilizing an Incident Meteorologist (IMET), a Long Term Fire Analyst (LTAN), Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN), or other knowledgeable individual, and incorporate these concepts into development of prescribed fire plans.

  • Review and remain diligent regarding the differences between 20-ft sustained 10 minute average winds, gusts, eye level, and midflame wind speeds.
  • Ensure on-site wind measurements are consistent with the type of wind parameters used in the prescribed fire plan, or ensure that accurate conversion techniques are accurately and consistently applied.

2. Apply “lessons re-learned” from the factors and best practices identified as being common between this prescribed fire and previous prescribed fires that were later declared wildfires.

Recommendations for The Nature Conservancy

3. Evaluate and refine the collaborative burning approach, including considerations for additional cooperative or partnership agreements to increase the experience level below that of overhead or trainee positions on high consequence prescribed fires.

4. Consider the full adoption of the DFPC Colorado Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Policy Guide as well as the Prescribed Fire Complexity Rating System Guide (NWCG PMS-424-1).

  • Adoption of these guides would increase consistency and support cooperation between The Nature Conservancy and DFPC and other Colorado partners.

Recommendations for the Division of Fire Prevention and Control

5. Evaluate all DFPC statutory and policy frameworks and craft solutions to align with all three co-equal goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.

  • Changes to DFPC’s organizational focus and statutory authority may be necessary to reduce wildfire risk to communities and create resilient landscapes. In the face of an increasingly complex wildland fire environment, the ability to implement proactive measures must be part of a holistic strategy to reduce risk.


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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.

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