Sunday afternoon a Rich Harvey’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will assume command of the Fern Lake Fire which in the early morning hours yesterday doubled in size as it spread more than three miles, coming to within less than four miles of the center of Estes Park, Colorado (see the map of the fire below). Strong winds early Saturday morning of 25 to 45 mph gusting to 75 mph pushed the fire into Moraine Park, burning one privately owned cabin and causing evacuations of residents just outside the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, within which the fire has been confined so far. A campground within the park was also evacuated.
Firefighters mapped the fire at 3,584 acres on Sunday but there is no estimate of containment. Priorities today include keeping the fire within the national park.
Aircraft were not used on Saturday due to strong winds. Air tankers, though requested through channels, were not available, with the only large tankers still on contract grounded in California by weather.
A Red Flag Warning is in effect for the fire area from noon Sunday until 6 a.m. Monday. The forecast the fire area for Sunday predicts southwest winds of 15 gusting to 24 mph, a high temperature of 51, sky cover of 49 percent, and a minimum relative humidity of 24 percent. However Sunday night will see the winds increasing to a maximum 41 with gusts to 62 along with a 22 percent chance of rain. The humidity will max out Sunday night at 75 percent.
At 1:50 a.m. on Saturday campers in the Moraine Park Campground four miles west of downtown Estes Park, Colorado were roused from their sleep and ordered to evacuate, forced out by the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park. Strong winds early Saturday morning of 25 to 45 mph gusting to 75 mph pushed the fire approximately three miles east into Moraine Park, just south of the campground. Firefighters were able to prevent it from crossing Bear Lake Road.
According to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office evacuations were ordered for the Highway 66 area and other locations east of Moraine Park. The Sheriff’s web site reported that those needing information about evacuations to call 970-577-3716. That number is subject to change. Additional information regarding evacuations can be found at InciWeb.
One structure burned on Saturday, a privately owned cabin inside the park boundary. No land outside the park has burned.
The fire has been burning since October 9, and following the expansion Saturday morning it was mapped at 4,400 acres. Due to the steep terrain and hazardous trees, firefighters have only been able to attack the fire in areas that provide an adequate margin of safety. A Type 3 medium-sized helicopter was able to complete a recon flight on Saturday, but the strong winds prevented the large Type 1 Skycrane helicopter on scene from working on the fire. Two additional Type 1 helicopters have been ordered, a K-MAX and another Skycrane.
The map of the Fern Lake Fire above shows the last Google Earth perimeter of the fire that has been made available by the National Park Service. A more recent map dated November 30, 2012 showing virtually the same perimeter before the lastest fire movement can be found at InciWeb.
By mid-day on Saturday the winds decreased, slowing the fire, which allowed some residents to return to their homes in the High Drive and Marys Lake Road areas.
On order are a Type 1 Incident Management Team, hot shot crews, additional engines, two additional Type 1 helicopters, and “all available local resources”, according to the fire’s InciWeb site. Structure protection is being provided by many local fire departments. Tracy Weaver, a spokesperson for the fire, told Wildfire Today that two large air tankers were ordered early Saturday morning but they were told the only air tankers still on contract were in southern California and they were grounded, unable to take off due to weather.
In recent days, the Incident Commander has been Jerran Flinders, a smokejumper from Boise, Idaho. One or two squads of jumpers have been assigned to the fire for the last week or two.
Saturday morning the National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook that warned of winds in the area gusting up to 50 mph in the morning, decreasing to peak gusts of 30 mph in the afternoon. Temperatures will continue to be unseasonably warm. The forecast for the specific area of the fire calls for 49 degrees on Saturday with a minimum relative humidity of 38 percent. On Sunday the high will be 50 degrees, the relative humidity will bottom out at 23 percent, and the winds should be out of the west-southwest at 16 mph gusting to 26. There is virtually no chance of rain until Sunday night, when there is a 15 percent chance.
We are working on obtaining additional information on the fire and expect to update this article later on Saturday.
Additional resources ordered for Colorado’s Fern Lake Fire
A large Type 1 helicopter and six smokejumpers have been ordered for the Fern Lake Fire which has been burning in Rocky Mountain National Park since October 9 eight miles west of Estes Park, Colorado. The jumpers will fill overhead positions on the fire.
Dry and unseasonably warm weather has contributed to the fire spreading in recent days to a total of 1,200 acres. For the month of November, the area has only received 0.01″ of precipitation. A record was recently set for the highest Energy Release Component (fire danger index) recorded for this time of year. The weather forecast for the next seven days calls for more dry weather, except for a 10 percent chance of rain on Monday.
Little direct action has been taken on the fire due to steep terrain, hazardous trees, heavy fuel loads, and the difficulty in extracting a firefighter should an injury occur.
Two web cameras are being installed to watch for wildfires near Lake Chinook in Central Oregon. Firefighters will be able to access the images on their computers or cell phones, according to the Bend Bulletin. The Oregon Department of Forestry has plans for eight web cams in Grant, Hood River, Wasco and Wheeler counties.
Dogs rescued that were found by firefighters
The dogs that were part of a dog fighting operation discovered by firefighters while suppressing a fire near Rogersville, Tennessee are being rescued. Personnel with Animal Rescue Corps have removed 65 dogs from the facility in Cheatham County. Firefighters had to suspend their suppression operations after they discovered the facility threatened by the fire that housed dogs and roosters used for dog and cock fighting.
Opinion: how to reduce cost of wildfires
An opinion piece at the Denver Post has some suggestions on how to hold down the increasing costs of suppressing wildfires in the west. Here is an excerpt:
…For example, mapping areas at high risk of fires and landowner education of the costs of building in the WUI must expand.
The federal government also should provide technical assistance and incentives to local governments to direct future building away from the WUI. At the same time, Congress could limit or restrict mortgage deductions for homes in the WUI, while also allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums in fire-prone areas.
The Vallecito Fire has burned about 1,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest near Vallecito Reservoir 16 miles northeast of Durango, Colorado. The fire started October 12, most likely from lightning, and is burning within the perimeter of the 2002 Missionary Ridge fire. Due to the hazards of falling snags and steep terrain, firefighters have opted not to attempt direct suppression of the fire, according to information on Inciweb.
A contingency fireline is being prepared north of the fire if it becomes necessary to stop the fire before it encroaches on homes in the Hummingbird Lane and Ho Hum Drive areas.
Yesterday Colorado state officials issued a smoke advisory for the towns of Durango, Vallecito and Bayfield which is expected to be in effect until at least 4 p.m. Sunday.
The fire is staffed by eight personnel, including the Tushar Mountain Wildland Fire Module (a 7 person crew) and a Type 3 Incident Commander. Delaying and confinement tactics will be used to minimize spread until a significant wet weather event occurs. Persistent dry weather is predicted through Friday, November 9.
From: Keith Berger, BLM, Royal Gorge Field Office, Field Manager
To: BLM Colorado State Director
THE FOLLOWING INFORAMTION IS PRELIMINARY AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE
Location: Wetmore Fire, Royal Gorge Field Office
Date of Occurrence: Approximately 14:00 on 10/23/2012
FMO Robert Hurley, Front Range Interagency Fire Management Unit
Activity: Wildland Fire Suppression
Number and Type of Injury: None
On October 23, 2012 at approximately 1400 PM MDT, two Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees led a group of private citizens to safety when their exit access was cut off due to fire and smoke. The BLM employees, from the Royal Gorge Field Office Front Range Interagency Fire Management Unit located in Canon City, Colorado, were responding to the Wetmore Fire when they saw that some private citizens were unable to exit to the main highway. They guided the citizens to an area with light fuels, allowing the fire to pass by without any injuries, and were then able to lead the citizens to the highway, where they were all able to leave the fire area.
The human caused fire was reported at approximately 1300 PM MDT near the town on Wetmore, Colorado. Weather conditions during the initial attack on Tuesday afternoon were clear skies, temps 75+ degrees with southwest winds 40-45 mph with gusts to 70 mph. Fuels in the area are Ponderosa Pine, Pinion-Juniper and oak brush and grasses.
A Lessons Learned Review Team, consisting of the Colorado State Office Safety & Occupational Health Specialist, a Zone FMO from the Arapahoe-Roosevelt NF, a Forestry Tech from the Black Hills NF and a Zone FMO from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control will be conducting the investigation.