Update on the six largest wildfires in Colorado

Air Tanker drop Oil Springs Fire
An Air Tanker drops on the Oil Springs Fire to protect a natural gas plant south of Rangely, CO. The retardant did not cover the plant. Posted 6-23-2021 on InciWeb.

Colorado has six wildfires larger than 500 acres. The fires have not been extremely active over the last couple of days and there is a chance of thunderstorms over most of the western part of the state through the weekend.

wildfires in Colorado, June 24, 2021

Oil Springs Fire, 11,933 acres, 18 miles south of Rangely. The Great Basin Incident Management Team 3 assumed command of the fire at 6:30 a.m. on June 22. Firefighters are still seeing active fire behavior due to dry conditions, receptive fuels and wind.

Muddy Slide Fire, 4,056 acres, 22 miles south of Steamboat Springs. The Rocky Mountain Area Type 2 Incident Management Team Blue assumed command of the Muddy Slide Fire at 6:00 a.m. Thursday. Evacuation information is available HERE. On Thursday, the fire area is forecast to receive afternoon showers, thunderstorms, and increased moisture, reducing fire behavior in the short-term, giving firefighters an opportunity to safely engage the fire.

Sylvan Fire, 3,752 acres, 12 miles south of Eagle. The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team, with Dan Dallas as Incident Commander assumed command of the fire at 6 a.m. Thursday. On the east side of the fire, crews are focusing on working from Sylvan Lake to the west creating a direct fireline from the lake to the power line road. On the west side firefighters are completing direct fireline on the southeast corner where the fire has crossed the Mount Thomas Trail.

West Fire, 3,401 acres, 41 miles southeast of Rock Springs, Wyoming on the WY/CO border. On Thursday crews are securing and strengthening fire lines on all sides of the fire. Unburned fuel inside containment lines will continue to burn and may produce smoke that will be visible as these interior pockets of fuel continue to burn inside established fire lines.

Trail Canyon Fire, 881 acres, 10 miles northwest of Red Mesa. The spread of the fire has been stopped.

Wild Cow Fire, 553 acres, 26 miles north of Fruita. The fire is being managed by Ross Wilmore and the Upper Colorado River Type 3 Incident Management Team. Not much additional information is available.

Muddy Slide Fire prompts evacuations in Routt County, Colorado

3:22 p.m. MDT June 23, 2021

Muddy Slide Fire map Colorado
Map showing heat detected by satellites on the Muddy Slide Fire at 3 a.m. MDT June 23, 2021.

The Muddy Slide Fire 21 miles south of Steamboat Springs, Colorado has burned approximately 3,000 acres at elevations ranging from 8,300 to 10,000 feet. A few decades ago forests at these elevations were too wet to burn frequently. Last year and this year we have seen it happening on a number of fires. Right now the 3,500-acre Sylvan Fire is burning above 9,000 feet 13 miles south of Eagle, Colorado.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered on the Muddy Slide Fire for residents on County Road 16 between mile markers 12 and 21.

The fire was very active Tuesday spreading south and southeast with crowning, wind driven runs, and long-range spotting. It continued to burn actively throughout the night.

The Rocky Mountain Blue Type 2 incident management team has been ordered. Tuesday evening firefighting resources assigned to the fire included 3 hand crews, 4 engines, and 4 helicopters, for a total of 101 personnel.  An additional eight hand crews are on order.

Smoke Colorado Muddy Slide Fire
Smoke from the Muddy Slide Fire as seen from the Incident Command Post at 8 p.m. June 22, 2021. InciWeb photo.

Strong wind spreads four wildfires in Colorado and Utah

The fires exhibited extreme fire behavior Sunday

Updated at 8:35 p.m. MDT June 21, 2021

Satellite photo, Colorado Fires
Satellite photo, Colorado Fires at 6:15 p.m. MDT June 21, 2021. NASA.

The satellite photo above taken at 6:15 p.m. MDT Monday shows the three large wildfires in northwest Colorado were very active at that time, with large plumes of smoke blowing off to the southeast.

10:16 a.m. MDT June 21, 2021

wildfires Northwest
Satellite photo of smoke from wildfires in Northwest Colorado and Northeast Utah at 6:36 p.m. MDT June 20, 2021. NASA.

Strong winds on Sunday caused four wildfires in northwest Colorado and northeast Utah to grow substantially. They are all in mountainous areas between 7,000′ and 9,400′. The three fires in Colorado listed here were all described as exhibiting extreme fire behavior. It is early in the year to have multiple large fires in Colorado. They are all in remote areas with difficult access and have the potential to continue to expand.

According to information available Monday morning there were a total of 84 personnel assigned to the four fires, which included one hand crew. With nearly 8,000 already committed to numerous fires in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and other states, it could cause a person to wonder about the availability of firefighting resources as we get deeper into the traditional fire season.

Oil Springs Fire
The largest of the four fires we’re looking at today is the 5,000-acre Oil Springs Fire in Colorado which has prompted evacuations. It has forced the closure of Highway 139 43 miles north of Grand Junction and 26 miles south of Rangely. Structures and oil and gas infrastructure are threatened. It is burning at elevations up to 7,400 feet. Winds gusting at 25 to 39 mph Sunday while the relative humidity was in the single digits resulted in the fire spreading several miles to the southeast and crossing Highway 139. A Red Flag Warning is in effect for the area just south of the fire. The wind is expected to decrease Monday but the RH will be in teens in the afternoon. Resources assigned to the fire Sunday evening included 3 engines, no hand crews, and no helicopters for a total of 20 personnel. A Type 2 Incident Management Team has been ordered. There are two other smaller fires 8 to 10 miles east of the Oil Springs Fire.

Sylvan Fire
The Sylvan Fire is burning above 9,000 feet 13 miles south of Eagle, Colorado just west of Sylvan Lake. The strong wind on Sunday pushed it about two miles to the southeast while exhibiting extreme fire behavior. Using early Monday morning heat sensing data from a satellite it appears to have grown to approximately 800 acres. As of Sunday evening there were no firefighting resources on the fire.

West Fire
The West Fire is 41 miles southeast of Rock Springs, Wyoming on the Wyoming-Colorado border three miles east of the Utah border. It is burning at elevations up to 9,400 feet. The early Monday morning heat sensing data indicates it has burned about 1,700 acres. Structures, oil and gas infrastructure, and sage grouse habitat are threatened. Resources assigned to the fire Sunday evening included 1 hand crew, 3 fire engines, and 1 helicopter for a total of 64 personnel.

West Fire
West Fire. Photo by Moffat County Sheriff’s Office June 20, 2021.

Sego Fire
The lightning-caused Sego Fire is in a very remote area of Utah 52 miles east of Price in rugged, difficult to access terrain. Smoke from the fire is very visible on the satellite photo at the top of this article. Heat sensing data indicates it had burned approximately 500 acres by early Monday morning.

Map wildfires Northwest Colorado and Northeast Utah
Map of fires in Northwest Colorado and Northeast Utah. The red areas indicate heat detected by satellites at 3:42 a.m. MDT June 21, 2021.

US Forest Service firefighter dies in off-duty accident in Mississippi

The Associated Press is reporting that a wildland firefighter died Wednesday night in Mississippi.

Evan Batson, 34, worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado on the San Juan National Forest’s Columbine Wildland Fire Module. The crew was on an assignment in Mississippi assisting with prescribed fires.

Mr. Batson and his co-workers had gone to dinner in Natchez. They were walking to a casino when he jumped a fence to take a shortcut from the top of a bluff to a grassy area, but he jumped too far. Natchez Police Department Cmdr. Scott Frye said the drop was about 100 feet down.

His co-workers, some of whom are EMTs, administered first aid along with the Natchez Fire Department.

“There was no motor vehicle access where he was,” Police Chief Joseph Daughtry said.

Later Mr. Batson was pronounced dead.

“His death occurred outside of work hours and is still under investigation,” said Lawrence Lujan, a spokesman for the US Forest Service. “Evan worked on the Payette, Medicine Bow-Routt, Manti La Sal, and San Juan National Forests as a career wildland firefighter during his tenure. We share this profound loss with Evan’s family, friends, and crew members and hold them in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

From the USFS website:

“The Columbine Wildland Fire Module (WFM) is a ten-person crew based out of the Columbine Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest. Columbine WFM is a resource that responds to fires locally, regionally, and nationally, and provides self-sufficient, highly skilled fire professionals to assist with wildland and prescribed fire operations, fire behavior and fire effects monitoring, hazard fuels reduction, and a range of other fire and resource related missions. Columbine has existed as an “initial attack” module since the early 2000s. With support from Forest Leadership working to expand the San Juan National Forest’s managed and prescribed fire programs, Columbine was reborn as a Wildland Fire Module in 2013.”

Columbine Wildland Fire Module
File photo of the Columbine Wildland Fire Module. USFS photo.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Batson’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mike and Scott.

After working on a fire in Colorado, firefighter dies of COVID

Charles Scottini had been hospitalized for six months

Laramie Co Fire District 2

A firefighter who had been assigned to a wildfire in Colorado in 2020 died today after battling COVID-19 in a hospital for six months.

From information released by Laramie County Fire District 2:

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Charles “Chuck” Scottini. Chuck passed away peacefully with his family by his side on the morning of April 24th, 2021 after a long six-month battle with COVID-19. Chuck contracted COVID while on a wildland fire assignment in Colorado and was quickly moved to University of Utah hospital where he stayed for 6 long months trying to recover.

Chuck has been a Firefighter with Laramie County Fire District 2 since 1998, where he currently held the position of Assistant Chief. Chuck was our Mr. fix it, our mentor, and was a wealth of knowledge to the Fire service. He will be dearly missed by all. We will release information on a memorial service at a later time.

The Oil City News reported that earlier this week emergency personnel in Laramie and Cheyenne had honored Assistant Chief Scottini as he was transported from Utah to hospice care in Cheyenne.

Laramie County Fire District 2 was established in 1945 and protects about 1,100 square miles north of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of Assistant Chief Scottini.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) found that 76 workers at the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado tested positive for the virus and 273 had to be quarantined at various times over the course of the fire. Two were hospitalized, the report said. One was admitted to a hospital near the fire on August 24 and by the 31st was placed on a ventilator. The machine breathed for him while in a medically induced coma until he was weaned off October 7. In December he was released to a rehab center.

The FLA did not provide any details about the second person on the fire that was hospitalized.

NBC News reported August 29 that one BLM employee in Alaska died August 13 shortly after testing positive while on the job. Another was in critical condition at that time.

The U.S. Forest Service confirmed that 643 FS wildland fire personnel had tested positive for coronavirus as of January 19, 2021, according to spokesperson Stanton Florea.

Of those, 569 had recovered by then, Mr. Florea said, but 74 had not yet fully recovered or returned to work as of January 19. At that time there had been no reported fatalities in the FS tied to coronavirus, he said.

When we asked in January, the Department of the Interior refused to release any statistics about COVID-19 positive tests, hospitalizations, or fatalities among their range or forestry technicians who have wildland fire duties. Spokesperson Richard Parker wrote in an email, “We respectfully decline to comment further on this topic at this time.”

Four land management agencies in the DOI employ fire personnel, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.

Lessons learned on Colorado’s Cameron Peak Fire where 76 people tested positive for COVID-19

Two fire personnel were hospitalized and 273 had to be quarantined while the fire was being suppressed

 Cameron Peak Fire COVID
Temperature check station for firefighters on the Cameron Peak Fire, InciWeb, posted Sept. 27, 2020.

The largest wildfire in the recorded history of Colorado, the Cameron Peak Fire, will be remembered for the 209,913 acres that burned, but also for how COVID-19 affected the personnel and the suppression of the fire.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis conducted by a team of seven people found that in the months after the fire started on August 13, 2020 west of Fort Collins, 76 workers at the fire tested positive for the virus and a total of 273 had to be quarantined at various times over the course of the fire. Two were hospitalized.

Cameron Peak Fire
Cameron Peak Fire smoke plume at Boyd Lake, InciWeb, Oct. 14, 2020.

The Analysis is lengthy, full of facts about how the outbreak affected the personnel and the management of the fire. The document has 250 Lessons Learned which are broken down into 14 types of resources (e.g. Finance Unit, Contractors) and 7 categories (e.g. COVID mitigations and testing/contact tracing).

It’s a lot to digest, but it’s best to start with the eight-minute video.

The report was written relatively early in the incident when only 21 had tested positive and 214 had been quarantined.

Of the two individuals that had to be hospitalized, one, called “Rico” in the report, was thought to be so close to death that tentative plans were being made about steps that would have to be taken after his demise, complicated by the fact that he was not a federal or state employee, but worked on an engine for an out of state contractor.

“Being a contract employee, could travel for his family be paid for? What about an Honor Guard or giving them a flag?” the report said. “There was confusion within the local unit, the fire management teams, and the RO about what could legally be done for different classifications of employees (federal, AD, contract, etc.) and this created a lot of tension. Everyone wanted to honor the intention set by the Chief to take care of people. However, the boundaries posed by the contract, policy, and federal purchasing law were limiting everyone to act on their desire to help.”

Rico was admitted to the hospital on August 24 and by the 31st was placed on a ventilator. The machine breathed for him while in a medically induced coma until he was weaned off on October 7. In December he was released to a rehab center.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t Rico’s first time dealing with COVID-19. According to the report he had been hospitalized back in the spring with complications from COVID-19.

Map of Cameron Peak Fire
Map of Cameron Peak Fire, December 1, 2020. NIFC.

This was the first time in the United States that a person on a large wildfire had to be admitted to a hospital due to the pandemic. There were dozens of unanticipated issues that developed as 273 tested positive. It created issues that none of the personnel on the nine incident management teams that rotated through the incident had ever dealt with.

In reading the report and learning about one unique problem after another, it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in dealing with the multiple COVID-19 breakouts on the fire. The term that kept popping into my mind was, sh**show.

For example, a firefighter on an AD crew from another region who had COVID-19 symptoms was dropped off at the hospital for testing. Called “Brett” in the report, he tested positive, but was not admitted and was released at 5:30 a.m. There was no one keeping track of him, no liaison, and he waited outside the hospital for 14 hours until he was transported to a hotel for quarantine. He had nothing. All of his gear was at the fire. Obviously he needed a few necessities to exist on his own for what could be two weeks. Transporting Brett’s gear bag to the hotel proved to be challenging, since it was suspected of being compromised by the virus. The Incident Management Team WANTED to help, but they were hamstrung by policies that would not allow Forest Service funds to be used to buy this kid a change of underwear or shaving equipment.

Continue reading “Lessons learned on Colorado’s Cameron Peak Fire where 76 people tested positive for COVID-19”