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Summit County firefighters respond to 2nd wildfire this week

Firefighters with Summit Fire & EMS and the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District work to put out a wildfire at the Knorr Open Space south of Heeney on Monday, April 12.
Photo from Summit Fire & EMS

Firefighters responded to a wildfire at the Knorr Open Space near Heeney on Monday afternoon, according to Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher. No injuries from the fire have been reported, and it did not threaten any structures.

The blaze represents the second wildfire of the season after another ignited and was quickly doused near the Summit County Shooting Range on Sunday afternoon.

“This year — because of our thin snowpack and our early drying, especially of those sun-exposed southern slopes — we are seeing early instances of wildfire already,” Lipsher said. “That’s never a good harbinger.”

The Knorr Meadows wildfire, south of Heeney and Green Mountain Reservoir, was first reported just before 1 p.m. Monday. Lipsher said a rancher was burning discarded hay bale wrappers in a 55-gallon drum when some embers escaped the drum and ignited the dry grass in the surrounding area. The fire burned quickly through the short grass and into a stack of rolled hay bales.

“With the wind yesterday, it just sent that racing across this open hay meadow right on the shores of the Green Mountain Reservoir. And in short order, the burning meadows ended up carrying the fire right to a stack of rolled hay bales,” Lipsher said. “That became the most tenacious part of the fire. Otherwise, it just burned so quickly through that hay meadow there was no stopping it. Once it got to those hay bales, it became problematic. It just burned and smoldered and smoked.”

Lipsher said the hay bales were difficult to extinguish because they were rolled so tightly and that firefighters were forced to let them burn a little bit while trying to prevent embers from escaping and creating new spot fires in the area. Firefighters were able to surround and douse the blaze, and keep it from escaping the perimeter.

The fire, which burned 31 acres of pasture land and a stack of about 75 hay bales, burned and smoldered throughout the night while a fire crew worked to ensure no embers escaped.

Lipsher said the burning of slash piles requires a permit but the burning of agricultural piles doesn’t. He said the burning of agricultural products is somewhat of a gray area but that it’s not an issue that has historically risen to the district’s attention as a chronic problem.

“This one was sort of an isolated incident, one that we hope doesn’t happen again,” Lipsher said. “Accidents happen and mistakes were made.”

While neither of Summit County’s fires this week have been particularly troublesome, Lipsher said a lack of precipitation over the past year has created poor fire conditions heading into the wildfire season. He said local firefighters are already working to complete their “pack tests” to be recertified for wildland firefighting, which he noted they are having to do “earlier and earlier every year.”

Following a devastating wildfire season around the state last year, Lipsher said it is up to local emergency agencies and community members to be prepared for whatever this season brings.

“We’re not in panic mode, but we recognize that we’re in a long-term drought, and we didn’t have a great winter in terms of the snowpack,” Lipsher said. “After the horrific wildfire season we had in Colorado last summer, we definitely have our guard up.”

While rain and snow in this week’s forecast should help to lower fire danger in the short term, Lipsher said residents should be readying their properties now in the event of more fires later this season.

Residents should ensure that they have adequate defensible space on their properties and that flammable materials are removed from nearby their homes. Both Summit Fire and the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District offer free home defensible space assessments. The districts will also provide consultations for homeowners associations and other organizations looking to make their properties safer.

Lipsher said residents — even those in towns — should be prepared for possible evacuations, including having an emergency kit complete with clothes, toiletries, first aid supplies, cellphone chargers, money, important phone numbers and documents, and other special items for pets, infants, the elderly or disabled family members.

Lipsher also urged community members to be exceedingly careful with all sources of heat and to be aware of the “potential for a catastrophe to happen due to one careless moment.”

“We really need to be learning the lessons that have been provided to us at the expense of our neighbors,” Lipsher said. “To that end, we cannot overstate the need for our entire community to be wildfire aware and wildfire prepared.”