The Saint Charles Fire in Pueblo County was estimated at 266 acres Tuesday morning, October 24, and still at zero percent containment. The incident management team said warm temperatures and the lack of humidity recovery overnight had caused the fire to grow substantially, and the Pueblo Chieftain reported today that the fire is now over 300 acres.
The Saint Charles Fire started October 14. Additional resources have been ordered and are arriving daily.
Crews reported slightly increased humidity and cooler temperatures yesterday, but further warm and sunny conditions were forecast for Wednesday, with shifting light winds picking up in the afternoon. Stronger winds out of the west at 11-15 mph with gusts up to 20 mph were predicted for Wednesday by late evening, with increased winds and fire activity resulting in further smoky conditions.
About 170 firefighters are working on the fire.
Resources include three helicopters, two SEATs, and three large airtankers, along with an air attack aircraft.
Four nearby neighborhoods are on pre-evacuation notice, including Tara J, Simonson Meadows, Aspen Acres, and the entire San Isabel area; the Pueblo County Sheriff issued a burn ban for the county until the fire is contained.
According to the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, the fire is about a half mile from the Custer County line.
The Colorado State Forest Service is requesting applications for the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program. The CSFS estimates that $7.5 million will be available for the 2023-24 grant cycle. The program assists with funding community-level actions in three major areas:
reducing wildfire risk to people, property, and infrastructure in the interface
promoting forest health and the use of woody material for forest products and energy
encouraging forest restoration projects
As outlined in the Steamboat Pilot, there are two main types of qualifying projects for funding:
Fuels and Forest Health Projects — must reduce risk of damage to property, infrastructure, water supplies, or other high-value assets from wildfire, or limit the likelihood of wildfires spreading into populated areas. Projects must promote forest health through sciene-based forestry practices that restore ecosystem functions, structures, and species composition.
Capacity Building Projects — must increase community capacity by providing the community with resources and staffing necessary for forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation projects.
The following individuals, organizations, or entities may apply:
Local community groups such as homeowner, neighborhood, or property associations located within or close to the wildland/urban interface.
Local government entities including counties, municipalities, fire protection districts, and other special districts in or near the interface.
Public or private utilities, including water providers, with infrastructure or land ownership in areas with high risk of catastrophic wildfires.
Nonprofit groups that promote hazardous fuels reduction projects or that engage in firefighting or fire management.
Applicants must demonstrate an ability to match 50 percent of the total project cost. Matching contributions can be cash, in-kind, or a combination of both, and may be in the form of private, local government, state or federal support for the project.
Authorities today ended their year-and-a-half-long investigation into the cause of the 2021 Marshall Fire, concluding that Colorado’s most destructive wildfire in history actually had two separate ignition sources, one of which was six days before the fire grew out of control, with the other later originating from arcing power lines.
Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson said the fire was first set on December 24, 2021 to burn branches and construction debris at a religious group’s compound on El Dorado Springs Drive. According to a Colorado Public Radio (CPR) report, that fire was inspected by the local fire department, which determined the fire had been extinguished correctly. But high winds six days later on December 30 uncovered hot ashes and reignited the fire. About an hour later, sparks from an Xcel Energy power line started a second fire about 2,000 feet away.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said no criminal charges would be filed against either Xcel or the Twelve Tribes group. “We make our decisions based on evidence,” he said, “and not based on emotion. If we were to tell you we were filing charges today, it would be wrong and unethical.”
The Denver Post reported that the Marshall Fire was Colorado’s costliest; it destroyed $2 billion in property and killed two people.
High winds, even with occasional hurricane-force gusts, are not unusual in this foothills region of Colorado, where the eastern prairies meet the Rockies. According to a climate.gov report, the Marshall Fire ripped through suburban neighborhoods on the west side of the metropolitan area. Pushed by high winds and fueled by dry conditions, the fire burned more than 6,000 acres, killed two people, and destroyed over 1,000 homes. On the day of the windstorm, atmospheric pressure dropped sharply east of the Rockies, and strong downslope winds followed. At the base of the foothills west of Denver, wind gusts reached 100 miles per hour.
Johnson and Dougherty spent more than an hour Thursday morning laying out details of their investigation and how Dougherty came to the conclusion that no criminal charges would be filed.
Investigators found no evidence that members of the Twelve Tribes organization intended to start the Marshall Fire — or that Xcel Energy was negligent in maintaining its equipment, Dougherty said.
The Twelve Tribes Community is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “Christian fundamentalist cult.” It has a local home in the foothills of the Rockies on Eldorado Springs Drive. “We gather every morning and evening to hear from our Creator through one another,” says the group’s website. “Devoted to the teachings and selfless life of our Master Yahshua the Messiah (Jesus of the Bible), we lay down our lives for one another (meeting each other’s needs first) to see His kingdom come to the earth. We work, rest, dance, laugh, and eat together as a family, enjoying one another’s fellowship.” The Denver Post published an in-depth look at the group a year ago.
At the request of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, a Facilitated Learning Analysis on the fire was completed. The lengthy and detailed document is in a “storymap” format, which in this case includes many illustrations, photos, and maps.
Xcel, incidentally, is disputing the investigation’s findings, arguing that fires in underground coal deposits (not uncommon in Colorado) near their power lines may be responsible for the start of the second fire. “We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Xcel Energy’s power lines caused the second ignition, which according to the report started 80 to 110 feet away from Xcel Energy’s power lines in an area with underground coal fire activity,” said Xcel spokesman Tyler Bryant. “Xcel Energy did not have the opportunity to review and comment on the analyses relied on by the Sheriff’s Office and believes those analyses are flawed and their conclusions are incorrect.”
A 7-acre wildfire in the area of Highway 14 and Arrowhead, according to a report by 9NEWS-TV, resulted in evacuations for residents of Poudre Canyon in Larimer County on Sunday afternoon.
Voluntary evacuations were issued for a stretch of the canyon; the Arrowhead Fire was reported by the Canyon Lakes Ranger District at 50 percent containment by late afternoon.
The Coloradoan reported that the fire was burning near the U.S. Forest Service’s Arrowhead Lodge visitor center, 34 miles west of Ted’s Place along Colorado Highway 14, also known as the Poudre Canyon Highway. The sheriff’s office issued evacuation notices from the Lodge east to Riverside Drive, and residents were told to gather essential items and prepare to evacuate. A Red Cross evacuation site was established at Cache La Poudre Middle School in Laporte, and a portion of Highway 14 was closed between Arrowhead Lodge and Rustic.
Garfield County in west-central Colorado signed off this week on the new multi-agency Roaring Fork Wildfire Collaborative, but not without a little creative editing. The Post Independent reported that county commissioners signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) joining 17 other local governments, fire districts, and state and federal agencies in the formation of the wildfire collaborative.
“The Roaring Fork Valley presents especially complex boundaries with the sheer number of agencies involved,” said Larry Sandoval with the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office. He said the completion of this MOU is a major step toward effective collaboration in fire prevention and management.
The request for edits to the MOU originated with Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “A lot of the emphasis is coming from Pitkin and Eagle counties and the Forest Service to do more forest management,” he said, “which from my perspective is more than just prescribed burns.” Jankovsky wanted the MOU to include equal mention of logging, thinning, and other “more aggressive” forest management methods. “I find it ironic that this group talks about climate change, yet they look at forest management as burning the forest, which has the same effect as if we have a forest fire, just to a much smaller degree,” Jankovsky explained.
A third-generation native Coloradan, Jankovsky is serving his third term as Garfield County Commissioner. He is the public lands planning lead for the Board of County Commissioners and the former general manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs. He asked that the word “climate” be removed from one sentence in the MOU where it stated that active management “… includes the use of the best available climate science that will help stakeholders understand how a changing climate will impact our landscapes and ecosystems, while also looking for opportunities to improve understanding through local research.” Jankovsky wanted the line to read “best available science” and not “best available climate science.”
Because fires have no boundaries and don’t recognize jurisdiction lines, the valley-wide collaborative is meant to have everyone on the same page. The 18 local, county, state, and federal agencies involved in wildfire management formalized their working relationship through the Roaring Fork Valley Wildfire Collaborative; the Gunnison Times reported that talk of the collaborative started early 2022, when residents in the Roaring Fork River drainage discussed their interest in better fuels treatment. With several big fires in recent memory — the 2018 Lake Christine Fire, the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire, and the 2021 Sylvan Lake Fire — valley stakeholders began discussing solutions. The collaborative’s goals include improving communication and identifying critical areas of fuels reduction and vegetation treatment.
Signatories to the MOU are Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Marble. County signatories are Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, and Gunnison counties. Additional collaborators include Aspen Fire, Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue, Carbondale Fire, Glenwood Springs Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, and the BLM.
The 2002 Hayman Fire was the largest wildfire in Colorado state history for nearly 20 years, until the Pine Gulch Fire surpassed it in August 2020. The Cameron Peak Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado history seven weeks later at 206,667 acres. With multiple record-breaking fires, the 2020 Colorado wildfire season became the largest in state history after burning 665,454 acres.
Large-scale wildfires are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. as climate change accelerates; since 2000 an annual average of 70,072 wildfires have burned an annual average of 7 million acres across the country. According to research by the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, that’s more than double the annual average of 3.3 million acres burned in the 1990s, when a greater number of fires occurred annually. A 2016 study found that climate change had doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western U.S., and a 2021 study supported by NOAA concluded that climate change has been the main driver of the increase in fire weather each season.
On the morning of December 30, 2021 the Marshal Fire ignited south of Boulder, Colorado. Pushed by winds gusting well over 40 mph, hurricane strength in some areas, it burned through subdivisions destroying 1,056 structures. By late the next day the winds had decreased and it was snowing on the 6,080-acre blaze.
At the request of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control a Facilitated Learning Analysis has been completed. The very lengthy and detailed document is in the Storymap format, which in this case includes many illustrations, photos, and maps.
Topics covered are weather, fuels, fire behavior, communication, ordering, evacuations, utilities, animal rescue, and hospital evacuation. It contains a wealth of information that could aid communities planning to prevent similar damage from inevitable wildfires, and manage them after they start.