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.
The Cow Creek Fire is 27 miles southeast of Montrose, Colorado. Here is an update from fire officials on Thursday:
A Type 3 Incident Management Organization has been established in response to the Cow Creek Fire. Crews assigned to this organization will work to suppress the fire using geographical features, roads and trails. An overnight reconnaissance flight established the official acreage at 85 with no containment.
South-southwest winds with gusts up to 25 miles per hour are forecasted for the fire area this afternoon. Due to dry fuel conditions in the fire area there is a high probably of rapid fire spread. Currently predictive models have the spread staying within forest boundaries away from structures and private lands. These forecasted winds will cause heavy smoke throughout the Western Slope.
The Cow Creek Fire is currently in heavy mixed conifer within the Uncompaghre Wilderness of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests. Fire crews are utilizing indirect confine and contain strategies in areas with the highest probability of success with public and firefighter safety in mind. An investigation team has been assigned to the incident and is currently working to determine the cause of the fire, which is currently unknown.
The forecast on Thursday is for south winds of 8 to 12 mph increasing to southwest at 10 to 15 with gusts up to 25 after noon. The chance of showers or snow begins to increase late in the afternoon, with isolated showers or thunderstorms through sunset, then increasing to scattered showers with isolated thunderstorms overnight. The amount of precipitation could be around 0.05 inch — not enough to put out the fire, but it could slow the spread.
The fire is burning at 10,000 feet with an 11,000 to 12,000-foot ridge to the east. Officially, the strategy they are employing is full suppression.
From a Forest Service update October 16, “Additional resources have been ordered and will be employed where tactics and strategies have high probabilities for success, while minimizing unnecessary exposure to the public and firefighters.”
If they can keep it east of the large north-south drainage west of the fire, and if the weather cooperates, they may be able hang on while “minimizing unnecessary exposure” until a fire season-ending weather event.
Authorities are saying the Cow Creek Fire 27 miles southeast of Montrose, Colorado has burned 100 acres.
Strong winds gusting around 35 mph are in the forecast for Thursday night, as well as Saturday and Sunday. If it is not contained by then, it could grow substantially by the first of next week. The strategy is full suppression, rather than manage and herd it around.
2:13 p.m. MDT October 16, 2019
Judging from photos taken by nearby residents, a fire reported 9 miles east of Ridgway, Colorado appears to be spreading quickly since it was reported at about 8 a.m. Wednesday. The Cow Creek Fire is in the Uncompahgre National Forest near the Red Creek-Chimney Rock area 27 miles southeast of Montrose. (see map below)