New fire near Silverton traps hikers

  • The Ice Fire pictured Monday afternoon near Silverton. Photo courtesy San Juan County Office of Emergency Management
    The Ice Fire pictured Monday afternoon near Silverton. Photo courtesy San Juan County Office of Emergency Management
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UPDATE 12:01 a.m. Tuesday 10/20

The Ice Fire west of Silverton has burned an estimated 320 acres so far, just hours after it was originally reported around 1 p.m. Monday afternoon. According to the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management, 23 hikers and three dogs were evacuated by helicopter from areas above the Ice Lakes trailhead on Monday, as they were trapped above the fire.

At this time, a Type 3 Incident Management Team is trying to put the fire out using a "full suppression" strategy, according to information from the San Juan National Forest. They're trying to protect South Mineral Campground and are hoping to prevent the blaze from spreading south of South Mineral Road. The fire is burning in a rugged area full of heavy timber.

Five helicopters, six single-engine air tankers, four engines, one helitack crew, one air attack and one fire suppression module are currently assigned to the Ice Fire. The aerial resources are working in the particularly rough terrain to try to gain ground against the fire. 

Forecasts for warm weather with wind, no precipitation and dry fuels signal the fire could spread quickly. Stage 1 fire restrictions remain in place for the San Juan National Forest, though they were lifted in some neighboring areas including Ouray County and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests recently. The San Juan National Forest kept its restrictions in place, which were adopted back in August, "due to dry fuels and critical lack of available firefighting resources nationwide," according to the agency's website.

Officials are asking anyone moving through the area on U.S. Highway 550 to avoid stopping to watch aircraft working on the fire, to avoid creating a dangerous situation and backing up traffic. Smoke is expected to be visible today in the region.

There is no immediate threat of evacuations for residents, but San Juan County officials are also asking people who live in the area to familiarize themselves with the three-phase "ready, set, go" evacuation plan that will be activated if an evacuation is ordered. They should also sign up for emergency text notifications by texting 81433 to 888-777.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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UPDATE: 5:10 p.m. Monday 10/19

Firefighters making an aerial attack on a fire burning west of Silverton have requested more resources, as high winds, unseasonably warm temperatures and dry conditions push the blaze through heavy timber.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Esther Godson said a fixed-wing airplane and a Type 2 helicopter, along with ground crews, are currently battling the fire, but that an additional six single-engine air tankers and four Type 1 helicopters are en route. A Type 3 incident management team will take over firefighting operations tonight.

"It is burning in heavy timber, and burning with high intensity and high rates of spread," Godson said around 5 p.m.

She said the official name of the fire is the Ice Fire.

Godson said smoke from the fire is visible from Montrose, and she implored drivers passing through on U.S. Highway 550 to not stop and watch the fire or firefighting operations.

"That highway is extremely dangerous on a pleasant day," she said.

The entire state of Colorado is currently in some level of drought, with nearly all of Ouray and San Juan counties experiencing exceptional drought — the highest-rated category.

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A wildfire has burned 15 to 20 acres and trapped hikers near the popular Ice Lakes trailhead west of Silverton this afternoon, authorities announced.

The U.S. Forest Service said an aerial crew is in route to battle the blaze, while San Juan County officials said hikers have been evacuated by helicopter. The San Juan County Sheriff's Office has closed and is evacuating South Mineral Road, a popular area for camping that leads to the Ice Lakes trailhead.

Forest Service officials said the fire had scorched 15 to 20 acres as of 2:30 p.m. and was burning in heavy timber.

This is a developing story. Updates will be posted on ouraynews.com as they become available.