Elephant Butte Fire near Evergreen, Colorado prompts evacuations

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Residents of 1,000 homes ordered to evacuate

Elephant Butte Fire map
Map showing the location of the Elephant Butte Fire about two miles northwest of Evergreen, Colorado.

The Elephant Butte Fire, reported Monday afternoon west of Evergreen, Colorado has prompted the evacuation of about 1,000 homes, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff Department. The evacuation orders are expected to remain in effect through Monday night.

The fire is burning on steep terrain two miles northwest of Evergreen Lake. It is being suppressed by firefighters from several departments, three large air tankers, three helicopters, single engine air tankers, and the Tatanka and Pike Hotshot crews. Firefighters had to withdraw from the fire around 7 p.m. due to lighting, but planned to reengage.

At about 8 p.m. MDT the state’s multi-mission aircraft mapped the Elephant Butte Fire at 48 acres.

At 6:30 p.m. there were no reports of injuries or burned structures.

Elephant Butte Fire July 13, 2020
Elephant Butte Fire July 13, 2020. JEFFCO Sheriff photo.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean and LM. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

A fire with an interesting name

And, Contain vs. Control

Ojo de los Casos Fire
Ojo de los Casos Fire. Undated Inciweb photo.

It is unusual for a large fire to have more than two words in the fire’s name, not counting the word “fire”. And it is not common for a fire name to be a multi-word phrase. Fire agency employees whose jobs entail completing forms or maintaining records get grumpy when they have to write or type over and over, a long fire name or one that may lead to misspelling.

A fire 17 miles southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico on the Cibola National Forest is named “Ojo de los Caso Fire”. Since it was reported on July 8 the blaze has burned 180 acres of timber, brush, and grass.

The names for many fires are derived from a nearby landmark. I asked the Fire Information Officer Andrea Chavez how the fire was named and what it means in English:

Depending on the map you look at, there are various colloquial names for a spring in Cañon de Chilili near the origin of this fire, including “ojo la casa” and “ojo los caso”. Therefore, firefighters initially on scene dubbed the fire Ojo de los Casos

Ojo de los Casos colloquially translates to Spring of the Cause. However, it is possible this name was derived from an older nomenclature, Ojo de Casa (House Spring), which has been found on older maps of the area.

On Wildfire Today we rarely regurgitate containment percentages that are put out by Incident Commanders, because the numbers are unreliable. I have seen too many large fires that had miles of cold fireline that officially had zero or 10 percent containment. Too often this number appears to be grabbed out of the air with no effort to be accurate. Other times it can be a conscious effort to deceive. An incident commander may think that by publicizing a low containment number, it can be easier to hang on to resources, or to rank higher in priority among fires that are competing for scarce resources. They may also think it makes it easier to justify maintaining evacuations. Other incident commanders actually base the containment on the portion of the perimeter where the spread has been stopped by a fireline.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has a very extensive glossary of wildland fire terms. Their definition of “contain” is:

The status of a wildfire suppression action signifying that a control line has been completed around the fire, and any associated spot fires, which can reasonably be expected to stop the fire’s spread.

The incident management team on the Ojo de los Casos Fire posted on InciWeb July 11 that the fire was 10 percent contained. They also described on InciWeb what containment means to them:

Percent containment is based off the actual amount of containment line that is safe enough to leave unattended without worries of heat, embers or hot spots flaring up and having potential to cross that line allowing additional growth of the fire.

I asked Ms Chavez where they got their definition. She said:

Our incident commander and operations personnel elaborated on [the NWCG] definition to provide more detail based on their many years of experience and training.

Later that day an update appeared on the fire’s InciWeb page that was devoted to the concept of containment. It reads in part,

Complete “containment” is the ultimate goal for the fire management team in command of fire suppression activities.

My Opinion

The ultimate goal of firefighters is to put out a fire, or “declare it out”. The step before that is control. And before that, containment.

NWCG Glossary:

Controlled — The completion of control line around a fire, any spot fires therefrom, and any interior islands to be saved; burned out any unburned area adjacent to the fire side of the control lines; and cool down all hotspots that are immediate threats to the control line, until the lines can reasonably be expected to hold under the foreseeable conditions.

The Incident Commander and the operations personnel on the Ojo de los Casos Fire are conflating Contain and Control.

In my mind, Contain is to have a good, solid fire line without a great deal of residual heat near the line. It would still require patrol and mopup but the spread has been stopped at that location. That leaves open the unlikely chance that the fire can cross that section of line if something unexpected happens.

Control is the next step — mopup is complete near the fire line, burning out is complete, snags have been dealt with. At 100 percent control the Incident Commander and the Operations Section Chief are staking their reputation on their assessments that the fire will not spread beyond the established firelines.

When a fire is “Out”, there is no combustion occurring.

Ojo de los Casos Fire
Ojo de los Casos Fire. Undated Inciweb photo.

Numbers Fire grows to over 18,000 acres south of Carson City, Nevada

Six miles southeast of Minden

(UPDATED at 12:02 p.m. MDT July 9, 2020)

Map of the Numbers Fire
Map of the Numbers Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 8 p.m. MDT July 8, 2020. The green line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.

The spread of the Numbers Fire south of Carson City, Nevada slowed Wednesday, but a mapping flight at 8 p.m. MDT July 8 determined that it added an additional 1,025 acres to bring the total up to 18,321.

Information from the Incident Management Team Thursday, July 9:

“Great Basin Team 4, a Type 2 Incident Management Team, assumed command of the Numbers Fire this morning.

“[Thursday], crews are being flown to the upper ridgeline of the Pine Nut Mountains to limit fire spread over the ridge to the east and into Smith Valley.  Right now, this is the area of greatest concern for additional fire growth.  Helicopters will support these crews by dropping water from buckets and delivering supplies.

“Additional firefighting resources will continue to secure and patrol existing firelines and respond to any adjacent fire activity.  In some areas, where containment is certain, crews and equipment will begin to repair suppression actions.  This includes rehabilitation of ground moved by dozers to create fireline.”

(Revised at 8:10 a.m. MDT July 8, 2020)

Map of the Numbers Fire at 8 pm MDT July 7, 2020
3-D map of the Numbers Fire at 8 pm MDT July 7, 2020. Looking southeast.

The Numbers Fire 17 miles south of Carson City, Nevada burned 17,296 acres during the first 24 hours after being reported at 9:01 p.m. MDT July 6, 2020. A mapping flight at 8 p.m. July 7 showed that it had burned into the 2,323-acre Monarch Fire that started June 26, 2020.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team, Great Basin Team 4, is organizing the efforts of 11 hand crews, 38 fire engines, and 9 helicopters, for a total of 450 personnel. The fire behavior is described as extreme and threatens 350 residences.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Numbers Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Numbers Fire map
Numbers Fire map, July 8 2020. The Numbers Fire has burned into the Monarch Fire that started June 26, 2020.

Wednesday afternoon firefighters on the Numbers Fire can expect sunny skies with no chance of rain, temperature around 80, relative humidity of 10 percent, and wind out of the northwest at 12 to 17 mph gusting to 25 — conditions similar to Tuesday.

Wednesday morning fire officials said evacuations had been lifted for Pine View Estates, Bodie Flat, Out our Way Area, Blue Bird, and Lena Way.

The two photos below were taken from the same camera at Ridge Tahoe. The first is from 2:40 p.m. June 7, and the second, 7:08 a.m. June 8.

Numbers Fire Nevada wildfire Carson City Minden
Numbers Fire, Ridge Tahoe cam at 2:40 p.m. June 7, 2020. Looking southeast.
Numbers Fire
The Numbers Fire as seen from Ridge Tahoe at 7:08 a.m. July 8, 2020. Looking southeast.

Helicopter crashes while working on the Polles Fire in Arizona

(Updated at 8:18 p.m. MDT July 7, 2020)

Map helicopter crash Arizona Payson Polles Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Polles Fire by satellites at 2:06 a.m. MDT July 7, 2020.

Officials from the Tonto National Forest confirmed that a helicopter crashed today while working on the Polles Fire in central Arizona. The only person on board was the pilot, who was deceased. He was identified in a press conference as Bryan Boatman, 37, with Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. He leaves behind a wife and 8-year-old child.

The Chief of the Pine-Strawberry Fire District said the pilot’s wife arrived at the Payson Airport as the body was being retrieved from the accident scene.

The helicopter crashed north of the main fire in a remote area only accessible on foot or by helicopter while transporting supplies for hand crews. After the crash was reported to the fire’s Incident Commander at 12:22 p.m. Tuesday, a Sergeant with Sheriff’s office was transported to the scene via short haul, suspended on a rope under a helicopter. He began the process of the investigation and removing the pilot’s remains.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the UH-1H helicopter went down about 10 miles west of Payson.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) has been issued at the Payson airport due to the crash, Airport Coordinator Dennis Dueker said. All flights in the area will be grounded until the TFR is lifted.

As of Monday night the Polles Fire had burned 580 acres 11 miles west of Payson, Arizona.

The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) #2 led by John Pierson was scheduled to assume command of the fire July 6 at 6 a.m.

Six hotshot crews and three other hand crews are working in conditions described by the incident management team as extreme. They have been working shifts late into the evening for the last few nights, spiked out in remote locations relying on helicopters to fly in their food, drinking water, and supplies.

The IMT said there are no current threats from the fire to the communities of Pine-Strawberry or Payson.

The fire started July 3 from lightning. It is only accessible by helicopter.

Polles Fire
Smoke from the Polles Fire. InciWeb photo posted July 6, 2020.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot, and the firefighters that were working on the Polles Fire.

Thanks and tips of the hat go out to Tom, Eric, and Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.