Spring Creek Fire becomes third largest in state history

It has burned approximately 94,093 acres, displacing the High Park Fire for the number three position.

Above: A DC-10 drops retardant on the Spring Creek Fire. Undated photo by Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

(UPDATED February 21, 2019)

The Spring Creek Fire ultimately burned 108,045 acres and 141 homes, becoming the third largest in the recorded history of Colorado. A Danish man living in the United States on an expired visa was charged with 141 counts of first-degree arson for allegedly starting the fire — one charge for each of the homes destroyed.

(UPDATED at 12:37 p.m. MDT July 5, 2018)

The Spring Creek Fire was very active Wednesday and Wednesday night spreading in a direction we have not seen very often since the fire started June 27. It spread rapidly on the northwest side running two to four miles west of Pass Creek Road working its way up Iron Mountain. It is unknown how far it may have continued after reaching the top. Clouds made it difficult to get good infrared data in that area.

The fire has burned approximately 103,000 acres as of early Thursday morning.

map spring creek fire
3-D map of the northwest section of the Spring Creek Fire, looking north, showing data from 12:46 a.m. MDT July 5, 2018.

Here is the outlook provided by the Incident Management Team:

Atmospheric moisture will continue to increase through the end of the week. However, given the current fuel conditions, the fire will continue to follow heavy continuous fuels to the north towards Gardner, the northeast towards Badito, to the east towards Three Bridges, to the south towards Cuchara and Indian Creek regardless of general wind direction. Potential for scattered thunderstorm activity which can cause gusty outflow winds in any direction.

(Originally published at 8:11 a.m. MDT July 4, 2018)

The Spring Creek Fire in southern Colorado between La Veta and Fort Garland added another 15,000 acres Tuesday to become the third largest in the recorded history of the state after Tuesday night’s mapping estimated that it has burned approximately 94,093 acres. A partial cloud cover made 100% precision impossible.

The five largest:

  1. Hayman Fire in 2002, 137,760 acres, NW of Colorado Springs
  2. West Fork in 2013, 110,405 acres, Wolf Creek Pass
  3. Spring Creek in 2018, 94,093 acres (preliminary mapping, still spreading) La Veta
  4. High Park Fire in 2012, 87,284 acres, west of Ft. Collins
  5. Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002, 71,739 acres, Durango

CLICK HERE to see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Spring Creek Fire.

Continue reading “Spring Creek Fire becomes third largest in state history”

The true cost of wildfire

White Draw Fire, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Firefighters arrive at the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, SD, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A conference in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on Wednesday and Thursday of this week explored a topic that does not make the news very often. It was titled The True Cost of Wildfire.

Usually the costs we hear associated with wildfires are what firefighters run up during the suppression phase. The National Incident Management Situation Report provides those daily for most ongoing large fires.

But other costs may be many times that of just suppression, and can include structures burned, crops and pastures ruined, economic losses from decreased tourism, medical treatment for the effects of smoke, salaries of law enforcement and highway maintenance personnel, counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, costs incurred by evacuees, infrastructure shutdowns, rehab of denuded slopes, flood and debris flow prevention, and repairing damage to reservoirs filled with silt.

And of course we can’t put a monetary value on the lives that are lost in wildfires. In Colorado alone, fires since 2000 have killed 8 residents and 12 firefighters.

The total cost of a wildfire can be mitigated by fire-adaptive communities, hazard fuel mitigation, fire prevention campaigns, and prompt and aggressive initial attack of new fires with overwhelming force by ground and air resources. Investments in these areas can save large sums of money. And, it can save lives, something we don’t hear about very often when it comes to wildfire prevention and mitigation; or spending money on adequate fire suppression resources.

Below are some excerpts from a report on the conference that appeared in the Grand Junction Sentinel:

[Fire ecologist Robert] Gray said the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire in New Mexico ended up having a total estimated cost of $906 million, of which suppression accounted for only 3 percent.

Creede Mayor Eric Grossman said the [West Fork Complex] in the vicinity of that town last summer didn’t damage one structure other than a pumphouse. But the damage to its tourism-based economy was immense.

“We’re a three-, four-month (seasonal tourism) economy and once that fire started everybody left, and rightfully so, but the problem was they didn’t come back,” he said.

A lot of the consequences can play out over years or even decades, Gray said.

He cited a damaging wildfire in Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada, where post-traumatic stress disorder in children didn’t surface until a year afterward. Yet thanks to the damage to homes from the fire there were fewer medical professionals still available in the town to treat them.

“You’re dealing with a grieving process” in the case of landowners who have lost homes, said Carol Ekarius, who as executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte has dealt with watershed and other issues in the wake of the 2002 Hayman Fire and other Front Range fires.

The Hayman Fire was well over 100,000 acres in size and Ekarius has estimated its total costs at more than $2,000 an acre. That’s partly due to denuded slopes that were vulnerable to flooding, led to silt getting in reservoirs and required rehabilitation work.

“With big fires always come big floods and big debris flows,” Ekarius said.

Gray said measures such as mitigating fire danger through more forest thinning can reduce the risks. The 2013 Rim Fire in California caused $1.8 billion in environmental and property damage, or $7,800 an acre, he said.

“We can do an awful lot of treatment at $7,800 an acre and actually save money,” he said.

Bill Hahnenberg, who has served as incident commander on several fires, said many destructive fires are human-caused because humans live in the wildland-urban interface.

“That’s why I think we should maybe pay more attention to fire prevention,” he said.

Just how large the potential consequences of fire can be was demonstrated in Glenwood Springs’ Coal Seam Fire. In that case the incident commander was close to evacuating the entire town, Hahnenberg said.

“How would that play (out)?” he said. “I’m not just picking on Glenwood, it’s a question for many communities. How would you do that?”

He suggested it’s a scenario communities would do well to prepare for in advance.

The chart below from EcoWest.org shows that federal spending per wildfire has exceeded $100,000 on an annual basis several times since 2002. Since 2008 the cost per acre has varied between $500 and $1,000. These numbers do not include most of the other associated costs we listed above. (click on the chart to see a larger version)

Cost per wildfire acre

Throwback Thursday

Let’s take a look six years back to see what we were writing about March 23-29, 2008.

Highlights of the 2008 Annual Wildland Fire Refresher Training.

Wildland Firefighter RefresherTraining 2008
–The After Action Review was released for the Santiago Fire, which was in Orange County, California.

–The U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician convicted of starting the 137,000-acre Hayman fire in Colorado was re-sentenced to 15 years probation and 1,500 hours of community service.

–A spokesman for North Carolina Division of Forest Resources in Raleigh, said rangers from the division have been allowing a fire to burn on an 18-acre uninhabited island because it doesn’t pose a threat to people or properties.

–A B-1 bomber while landing at Ellsworth Air Force Base had an in-flight emergency and may have dropped burning debris near the base that started multiple wildfires.

–There was an update on the trial of the Crew Boss and Type 3 Incident Commander on the Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop, Washington in 2001. Four members of his crew were overrun by fire and died.

GAO studies moving US Forest Service to Dept. of the Interior.

Poway, Calif., Firefighters Were Ordered To Not Fight Fires.

Terry Barton released from prison

Terry Barton, convicted of starting the 138,000 acre Hayman fire in 2003, was released from prison this morning. She started the fire while she worked as a Fire Prevention Technician on the Pike National Forest in Colorado.

The fire burned 133 homes and forced 8,000 people to evacuate, including the judge who presided over one of the proceedings related to the case. She served six years in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

Wildfire Today covered other aspects of this story HERE.

The picture is from 2002 when she appeared in court, courtesy of the Denver Post.

Opinions about Terry Barton, Hayman fire arsonist

In other posts, here and here, we covered the Terry Barton situation. She is the US Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician who started the 138,000 Hayman fire in Colorado in 2002. On March 27 her 12-year state sentence was thrown out by an Appeals court, leaving her with a 6-year federal sentence.

The father of one of the firefighters that died in a vehicle accident while driving to the Hayman fire wrote a letter to the editor of the Denver Post expressing his opinion that a 6-year sentence is not adequate.

An article in the Colorado Springs Gazette has a similar view.

Terry Barton re-sentenced today for starting Hayman Fire

hayman fire map
Scott C. Carter, Digital Data Services, Inc., www.digitaldataservices.com

Terry Barton was a Fire Prevention Technician for the US Forest Service when she started what became the 137,000-acre Hayman fire on the Pike National Forest in 2002.

Unless there are further legal proceedings, it appears that she will be out of prison in June.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

“Terry Barton, who set the worst fire in Colorado history, was re-sentenced to 15 years probation and 1,500 hours of community service today by 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kennedy.

Her first sentence on a state arson charge – 12 years in prison – was tossed out by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2004 because of issues with the way the original judge handled her case.

Barton is in a prison in Texas, serving out the remainder of a six-year sentence on federal charges for starting the Hayman fire. She’s scheduled to be released from prison in June, according to her attorney.

Once she’s released, she’ll have to check in with 4th Judicial District probation officials. Her new sentence on the state charge will be retroactive to 2003, meaning she’ll be on the hook for community service hours and probation check-ins until 2018.

In June 2002, Barton – a U.S. Forest Service employee – reported that a fire started in a campground northwest of Lake George. About a week later, she was arrested after admitting she accidentally started the fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.

The fire burned 137,000 acres in the Pike National Forest and destroyed 133 homes.”
Earlier we covered other developments in this case.

UPDATE: March 28

In yesterdays’ court proceedings, district judge Thomas Kennedy ordered Barton to pay restitution — estimated to be at least $30 million — on top of the $14.6 million in restitution that is part of her six-year federal sentence.

More from the Denver Post today:

Barton, who began serving her federal sentence in 2003, is due to be released in June from prison in Texas. She must report to the El Paso County probation office within a week after leaving federal custody.

Barton’s 12-year state prison sentence was overturned in 2004 by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found the judge failed to disclose that the Hayman fire forced him to evacuate and that he doubled the presumptive range of her sentence inappropriately because only a jury could find aggravating factors.

Prosecutors then argued that Barton’s appeal of her sentence violated the terms of the plea agreement, which allowed them to withdraw it.

In January, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled they could not withdraw from the agreement.

It said Barton would face only one count in one county, would serve any state sentence concurrently with the federal sentence, and she could not appeal any state sentence.

Newsome said the amount of restitution must be determined within 90 days, saying, “It will be at least $30 million.”

While the DAs understand the amount may never be paid, Newsome said state law requires a judge to impose restitution for actual losses and ensures victims’ right to pursue civil judgments.