An aerial photo of the East Fork Fire burning on Uncompahgre National Forest lands near Silverjack Reservoir. Courtesy Photo (USDA Forest Service)
By Bill Tiedje
Sixty firefighters, two helicopters and several fire engines continued to fight the East Fork Fire burning on steep and dangerous terrain near Silverjack Reservoir on Friday afternoon. Located on Uncompahgre National Forest lands, approximately 13 miles east-northeast of Ridgway, the fire was estimated to be 120 acres as of 3:00 p.m. on Friday, June 21.
The fire was started by a lightning strike on Saturday, June 15 but flared up to significant proportions on Thursday, June 20, resulting in the deployment of seven smokejumpers to the fire. Before the flare up on Thursday, USFS crews were able to observe the fire but were forced to divert attention to other priority fires in the area.
Helicopters on scene Friday included a type one helicopter, dousing 700-1000 gallons of water per tank from Silverjack Reservoir onto the fire, and a smaller type three helicopter for scouting. Three 20-person land crews and fire engines battled the blaze from atop a large mesa, in an attempt to confine the fire to the steep terrain.
The Grand Junction-based smokejumpers, one of several national smokejumper crews pre-positioned to make initial aerial attacks onto otherwise inaccessible terrain, were the first to respond. Carrying firefighting hand tools, meals-ready-to-eat and sleeping gear, the smokejumpers parachuted from a plane to assess the fire's development. The highly-trained smokejumpers determined that containment was infeasible on the extremely hazardous, steep terrain. Falling rocks were reported in addition to Red Flag conditions, signifying the possibility for high winds and rapid fire growth.
Fire Information Officer Rick Barton reported that the USFS hoped to report on some level of containment by Friday night; however, no information was currently available. Due to the unforgiving terrain, the management objective was to restrict the fire to the steep slopes and limit growth.
Barton said torching was reported in the East Fork Fire and low humidity and winds continued to hamper firefighting efforts. Heavy fuels were burning, including spruce and fir stands and downed trees.
Barton estimated containment may be possible in four to five days.
Several roads near the affected area have been closed at the forest service boundary including Owl Creek Pass, Big Cimarron, Little Cimarron, and High Mesa Roads (Forest Service Roads 858, 864,864.A). Forest Service trails in the area also closed include: Alpine Trail (FST 225), East Fork Trail (FST 228), Little Cimarron Trail (FST 229), Fall Creek Trail (FST 230,231), Big Park Trail (FST 234), Middle Fork Trail (FST 227) and Wetterhorn Basin Trail (FST 226).
Stage one fire restrictions will go into effect on Monday, June 24 on the Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.
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