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.
Throwback Thursday – On June 23, 2012 the Waldo Canyon Fire started in the Pike National Forest southwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado. On June 26 it spread into the Mountain Shadows area of the city. Before the fire was out, it had killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes.
Two to three inches of snow Saturday night slowed the spread of the Cow Fire 27 miles southeast of Montrose, Colorado (see map). Firefighters said the heavy vegetation in the fire area is still extremely dry.
The fire has burned at least 785 acres, but that figure has not been updated since Saturday morning because the mapping flight Saturday night was scrubbed due to strong winds.
In spite of the cooler temperatures and precipitation, they expect creeping, smoldering, and single tree torching on Sunday with the humidity in the 20s and a 13 mph northwest wind. After overnight temperatures in the teens at Ridgway Sunday night the forecast for Monday is 47 degrees, partly sunny, 10-13 mph west wind, and the humidity dropping into the 30s.
The Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Blue Team with Incident Commander Mike Haydon assumed command Saturday at 7 p.m. after transitioning with the local Type 3 team.
Firefighters will be monitoring backing fire activity on the southwest side of the fire as it moves downhill towards Cow Creek. On the north and northeast sides crews are scouting for locations to build fireline where it would be most successful should the fire advance. Firefighters have completed a fire line on the east side.
The Cow Creek Fire climbed further up the steep slopes east of Ridgway, Colorado on Thursday, growing to 655 acres according to an overnight mapping flight. (see map) Burning embers started three spot fires near the western base of Courthouse Mountain about 0.75 miles away from the main fire. The incident management team said the spot fires are within the identified area of containment and currently pose no threat to private property or structures.
The spot fires are at 10,700 feet in an area that has Aspen groves in their autumn colors. The main ridge to the east ranges from 11,000 to 12,000 feet.
Fire officials ordered a Type 2 Incident Management Team Thursday night.
Below is an update from the Forest Service at 8:45 a.m. October 18:
Access to the Cow Creek Fire remains a safety concern for assigned fire crews. Rugged terrain combined with dry fuels have caused crews to adopt an indirect confine and contain suppression strategy. Firefighters spent Thursday identifying and constructing contingency lines in areas where predictive models have shown a potential for fire spread. These lines, using existing natural and manmade features, will help contain the fire in the event of rapid spread. On Friday, crews are expected to continue confine and containment operations.
Fire Weather: On Friday, forecasts show scattered showers throughout the morning into the afternoon with temperatures in the low to high 40s and minimum humidity ranging from 42-47%. There will be moderate southwestern winds, with strong gusts, that will shift to steady, western winds during the late morning and eventually northwest in the afternoon. Smoke from the fire could be present in Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Saguache, San Miguel, Hinsdale, Garfield and Eagle counties.
Resources assigned to the fire include 2 hand crews, 2 engines, and 3 helicopters for a total of 64 personnel.
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)
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.