Cow Creek Fire Updates

  • Sunrise in Ouray County on Thursday morning with smoke from Cow Creek Fire.
    Sunrise in Ouray County on Thursday morning with smoke from Cow Creek Fire.
  • Image of the Cow Creek Fire burning Wednesday, courtesy U.S. Forest Service.
    Image of the Cow Creek Fire burning Wednesday, courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Update: Noon on Monday

Fire managers will hold a community meeting about the Cow Creek Fire at Ridgway Elementary School on Tuesday night.

The Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team Blue, which took over the fire last week, is currently stationed at the Ouray County Fairgrounds. There are 202 people working on the fire, which is estimated to have burned 785 acres as of Monday morning, according to fire information officer Pam Baltimore. While the fire hasn’t been very active over the past few days, due to precipitation and colder temperatures, fire managers wanted to host a community meeting to make sure to answer questions and provide information about the fire.

During the meeting, fire managers will meet with the public, Baltimore said.

“This is just an opportunity to connect with the community and tell them what’s going on,” she said. Sometimes community meetings are held when fire activity is ramping up, but that’s not the case with the Cow Creek Fire currently.

There are several air resources assigned to the fire currently, including a fixed-wing aircraft and four helicopters. No structures are threatened, the fire continues to burn in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, and no evacuations have been ordered, though hunters in the area were instructed to relocate.

The doors for the community meeting will open at 5:30 p.m. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and is expected to last about an hour, Baltimore said.

The type 2 team has brought additional resources to the fire, including fire-behavior specialists, forecasters and specialized firefighting teams with a vast knowledge base. The Rocky Mountain Blue Team has previously been assigned to numerous large fires, including the Horse Park Fire near Norwood last year, the 416 Fire near Pueblo last year, and the Cache Creek Fire near Parachute last year, according to its assignment history.

The unit is self-contained and is grateful for offers of food and donations from the community, but Baltimore said those offers would be best directed toward local fire departments at this time, including those that first responded to the fire, as the type 2 team brought along everything it needed.

“It’s not that we don’t appreciate it,” she said. “We really would like them to focus on local districts.”

Update: 2 p.m. Sunday

Another dose of precipitation and cold temperatures moderated the Cow Creek Fire east of Ridgway on Sunday, as a Type II incident firefighting team with more resources took over management of the blaze.

Two to 3 inches of snow fell on the fire overnight, but heavy fuels will remain extremely dry until significant precipitation is received, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Creeping, smoldering and single-tree torching is expected today.

The fire was last reported at 785 acres in size on Saturday morning, but strong winds grounded an infrared flight that would have provided an updated acreage estimate.

Firefighters on the southwest side of the fire will be monitoring fire activity as it moves downhill toward Cow Creek. Crews on the north and northeast side of the fire are scouting for locations to build fire line where it will be most successful should the fire advance. Firefighters on the east side of the fire have finished preparing a containment line and will work on improving and holding the line, according to the Forest Service.

A total of 102 firefighters are on the scene.

The cause of the fire, which remains 0 percent contained, is under investigation.

Update: 5 p.m. Saturday

Snow and cooler weather slowed the spread of the Cow Creek Fire on Friday, and fire crews could be further aided by another round of precipitation forecast for early Sunday.

The fire crew from 655 acres to 785 acres on Friday, but fire activity was minimal, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Crews discovered a new spot fire created by Thursday's overnight winds, but the new spot is between the main body of the fire and previous spot fires at the base of Courthouse Mountain. The spot remains within the containment area and poses no immediate risk to private land or structures.

Crews spent the day working to connect containment lines near Owl Creek Pass to lines near Old Owl Creek Road. Crews also scouted locations for possible contingency lines to use in the vent of continued fire spread.

A Type II incident firefighting team was briefed on the fire this morning and will assume control of operations over the next few days. Type II teams have more resources at their disposal, including fire behavior analysis and fire weather forecasters.

The fire, burning 9 miles east of Ridgway, remains 0 percent contained. Investigators are continuing to look into its cause.

The National Weather Service is calling for periods of snow showers early Sunday morning — with less than an inch of snow possible — and an overnight low of 24. Sunday's high is expected to reach 42.

Update: 4:30 p.m. Friday

U.S. Forest Service officials say while they are "truly grateful" for the outpouring of support they've received from the community, they're asking people who want to donate food and supplies for firefighters to direct their donations to local volunteer fire departments, charities, food banks or shelters.

"The firefighters working the Cow Creek Fire are well supplied, and such generosity from the community would be hugely helpful for those in need," forest officials posted on the GMUG Fire Information Facebook page.

"You can also show your support for fire personnel by making cards and posters, or by simply saying 'thank you' when you see them around town."

Ouray County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd said late Friday afternoon that the incident command center was "overwhelmed" with offers of donations.

Update: 9 a.m. Friday

Winds fanned the Cow Creek Fire overnight and the blaze grew to an estimated 655 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Light showers and cooler temperatures were hoped to moderate the fire’s growth on Friday.

Federal officials attributed the growth of the blaze to tinder-dry conditions and said firefighters are using indirect firefighting strategies to try to eventually contain the blaze.

The fire, which is burning in the Uncompahgre Wilderness east of Ridgway on U.S. Forest Service land, has been burning since early Wednesday and made a run from an estimated 85 acres to the current size overnight Thursday.

Officials have requested a Type II incident firefighting team, which will bring more resources to the fire as well as fire behavior analysts and fire weather forecasters.

“They bring a lot of their own in-house specialists,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dylan Peters. “Right now, we’re an ad hoc team... They’ll hit the ground running.”

While the Cow Creek Fire has not been exhibiting what officials would call “extreme” fire behavior, the rugged topography and dry conditions warranted the additional resources, Peters said.

While officials have received requests from locals wanting to donate items or help firefighters in some way, Peters said the best thing locals can do right now is let them do their jobs and not distract them from their work.

“The best thing people can do is stay out of the fire area,” he said. “While we appreciate the sentiment behind donations we are fully staffed and geared up and we have what we need.”

Update: 7 p.m. Thursday

U.S. Forest Service officials confirmed a spot fire has ignited to the north of the original Cow Creek Fire and they are aware of the second smoke column that has developed, visible from Ridgway. Embers from the fire, carried by wind, are assumed to have sparked this nearby blaze.

Dry, windy conditions hampered firefighting efforts today and a Type 3 Incident Management team has been assigned to the fire.

Ouray County currently does not have any fire restrictions in place. Sheriff Lance FitzGerald is scheduled to address county commissioners on Tuesday about adopting a resolution to put a limited fire ban in place in unincorporated Ouray County.

Update: 11 a.m. Thursday

Officials are now saying the Cow Creek Fire is burning approximately 85 acres, after receiving information from aerial resources that flew over the fire and assessed it overnight.

According to Kim Phillips, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, other aerial resources are still being coordinated. "We’re still trying to get a pulse on what resources are coming in," she said. On Wednesday, firefighters attempted to drop some water on the fire but were hampered by the amount of dry fuels in the mixed conifer forest, including dead trees.

Phillips advised the amount of smoke is likely to increase today as the fire may be fed by winds forecasted for this afternoon. "People are going to see smoke," she said.

No evacuations have taken place in the fire area and no structures are threatened at this time. But federal officials have been working with state and local law enforcement agencies to make sure hunters in the area (Unit 65) know they should leave. Phillips said the Forest Service partnered with the Ouray County Sheriff's Office deputies and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers to try to locate and notify hunters to leave the area.

Officials have issued an air quality advisory for wildfire smoke in eastern Ouray County, associated with the Cow Creek Fire. Winds are forecasted today, expected to carry smoke to areas northeast of the fire (away from Ridgway and Ouray). According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, daytime smoke impacts will generally be limited to the Uncompaghre National Forest in eastern Ouray and southern Gunnison counties.

However, southwesterly winds are expected tonight and into Friday morning, which will push smoke into the Uncompahgre National Forest. Possible precipitation Thursday night may help decrease the smoke. The National Weather Service has forecasted a slight chance of thunderstorms and showers in the area Thursday night. There is currently a 50 percent chance of show forecasted for Sunday.

Update: 9 p.m. Wednesday

According to an update from Cow Creek Fire Incident Commander Sean Stafford, firefighters focused on the eastern flank of the fire today. Firefighters tried to use water drops from aircraft, but heavy dead and downed timber hampered these efforts. There are currently 64 personnel assigned to the fire.

Firefighters hope to use the geography as well as existing roads and trails to achieve containment. Fire managers are advising those in the Ridgway area that smoke is going to be visible and may affect areas east of the fire, specifically tomorrow morning.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag warning lasting through Thursday evening, indicating tinder dry conditions and winds will not help with suppressing the fire.

"Due to dry, windy conditions increased fire activity is expected as fuels are more susceptible to ignition," Stafford's report said. "The potential for rapid fire spread is high. Heavy smoke will be visible throughout Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, Hinsdale and Gunnison counties."

Hunters in the area (Unit 65) have been urged to leave.

Road closures are affecting Ouray County Road 12 and Owl Creek Pass (Forest Service Road 858 from the forest boundary up to Owl Creek Pass). Closed trails include Stealey Mountain South Trail (FST 258), Courthouse Trail (FST 218), Stealey Mountain North Trail (FST 219), Old Owl Creek Trail (FST 236), Cow Creek Trail (FST 220), Spalding Park Trail (FST 237), FST 219.1B, FST 236.1B, FST 236.1A, and FST 144. 

No cause of the fire has been determined yet.

Update: 5 p.m. Wednesday

The fire burning in the vicinity of Chimney Rock is now being called the Cow Creek Fire, and federal fire officials are estimating it's burning about 100 acres in mixed conifer forest about nine miles east of Ridgway. County Road 12 remains closed, as well as the road to Owl Creek Pass and Silver Jack Reservoir.

The fire's cause is unknown at this time, and it was initially reported early this morning by hunters in the area of the Stealey Mountain trailhead.

Aerial resources have been fighting the fire this afternoon, and 62 personnel are currently assigned to the fire, according to InciWeb. The plan for the fire is full suppression at this time.

High winds are forecasted for Thursday in the area. The fire is currently burning in the Uncompahgre Wilderness and is not threatening any structures at this time.

Posted Wednesday morning, 9 a.m.:

Fire crews from around Ouray County are responding this morning to a wildfire that ignited in the Cimarrons east of Ridgway.

Ouray County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd said a group of hunters reported the fire burning this morning near the Stealey Mountain trailhead off County Road 12. The fire is likely burning on U.S. Forest Service land. The road has been closed five miles up County Road 12 from U.S. Highway 550.

Boyd said he doesn't yet know the size or cause of the fire, but that fire crews from the Bureau of Land Management, Ridgway, Ouray and Log Hill are responding. He said he first learned about the fire around 6:30 a.m.

"We're requesting some aerial support to get eyes on it," he said.

As of now, no injuries have been reported, he said.

Boyd said the best thing citizens can do is to stay clear of the fire and not call 911.

"We're aware of (the fire) and we don't need the 911 lines tied up," he said.

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