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Tuesday updates: Ptarmigan Fire

A helicopter approaches the Ptarmigan Fire near Silverthorne on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
Joe Staley/Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: This story is no longer being updated.

7:19 p.m. The Ptarmigan Fire has grown to between 85 and 100 acres, according to an update provided by officials at Silverthorne Town Hall Tuesday evening, Sept. 28.

Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said overall, it was a good day for fire managers and the community at large, as the fire’s growth was primarily to the north and east away from residential areas to the southwest.

“We really focused our efforts on the western flank and the south heel of the fire,” Bianchi said. “We really were concentrating to make sure that the fire was not moving down into the subdivision. You can see there that we were successful.”

While rain did provide some help in quelling the blaze Tuesday afternoon, Bianchi said it also grounded aircraft working to build containment. Officials are hoping to attack the fire with aircraft again Wednesday, Sept. 29, before more precipitation moves into the area.

“It is looking like precipitation will not be coming until … midafternoon or so (Wednesday),” Bianchi said. “So that will give us all morning to hit it hard again with the same air resources that we had today.”

Crews on the ground have yet to engage with the fire or build any containment, due mostly to dangerous conditions related to “snags” like dead trees that could fall on firefighters, according to Incident Commander Eric White.

Summit Fire & EMS Public Information Officer Steve Lipsher said it was too early to determine a cause for the fire.

Bianchi said firefighters and engines would remain on scene overnight to monitor the fire and to protect homes in the area if necessary.

6:30 p.m. Eric White, Type 3 incident management team commander, reported that there is no containment on the fire.

Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher directed community members who wish to donate food to the American Red Cross and the Family and Intercultural Resource Center. He noted that firefighters are provided with food.

6:22 p.m. Officials provided an update at Silverthorne Town Hall Tuesday evening. The Ptarmigan Fire acreage has grown to between 85-100 acres. A total of 536 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders or pre-evacuation orders.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said evacuated Angler Mountain and Hamilton Creek residents will have a window from 8-10 a.m. to return home on Wednesday, Sept. 29. Residents who wish to return home during this window must get a credential at Silverthorne Town Hall. Credentials are being offered until 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28 and starting at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

FitzSimons said officials will continue to look for opportunities for evacuated residents to return home temporarily to retrieve forgotten items.

3:52 p.m. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has issued a new pre-evacuation notice for homes east and uphill of Summit County Road 2020 and north of Summit County Road 2021. The pre-evacuation notice includes Daley Ranch.

Residents in the area should be prepared to leave. Here’s what to pack.

3:05 p.m. Rainfall over the Silverthorne area has helped to moderate fire behavior, but it also grounded aircraft working to contain the blaze, according to the most recent update from the U.S. Forest Service.

The fire has grown to an estimated 83 acres in size.

2:11 p.m. It began raining in Summit County at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28. According to the National Weather Service’s Silverthorne forecast, showers are likely through Tuesday night. Chances for rain and snow are in the forecast through the weekend. Officials are hoping the precipitation will help firefighting efforts.

The next public update meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Silverthorne Town Hall.

12:45 p.m. Officials provided an update on the Ptarmigan Fire at Silverthorne Town Hall this morning.

Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said the fire grew about 40 acres overnight and is currently around 60 acres based on mapping from an aircraft mission Monday and early estimates Tuesday morning.

“We saw a lot of fire activity over the night, which, with temperatures dropping, it was a little surprise to us to see a lot of the torching that we saw,” Bianchi said. “And a lot especially in some of those aspen stands, as well. So it was a little unprecedented.”

Bianchi said the cause of the fire was still unknown, but he noted that it started in an area near a trail, suggesting it may have been human caused.

Bianchi said there was currently a significant aircraft response taking place, including a large air tanker dropping retardant along the perimeter of the blaze. He said firefighters would tie containment lines into the Ptarmigan Trail, and drop as much retardant as possible on the west and south sides of the fire.

“That is the critical spot for us,” Bianchi said. “We don’t want it to continue to move downhill into the housing development where our structures are at. So we’re really trying to work on this flank. The great thing about it is that is predominantly where a lot of the aspen is. We’ve got some grass and sage. So it is an area where we can start to engage the fire a little more aggressively.”

Bianchi said there were currently two 20-person hand crews in route in addition to a seven-person ground crew currently helping to direct air resources.

Officials are also hoping rain forecast this afternoon and over the coming days will help firefighting efforts.

“Looking into the next couple days, that’s really going to be our goal, we’re going to (shore) up some of these spot fires,” Bianchi said. “… The column kind of laid down to the north last night and caused some of these spot fires, and so we’re really going to look at those and try to (shore) up those as well to make sure those don’t continue to grow and push the fire further north. We’re looking at additional precipitation in the next couple days, as well, so we’re really looking forward to utilizing the weather to help us fight this along with air resources and the ground resources that are coming.”

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said a total of about 617 homes in the Hamilton Creek, Angler Mountain and South Forty neighborhoods are currently under either an evacuation order or pre-evacuation notice. The homes are valued at an estimated $400 million, FitzSimons said.

He went on to provide some additional insight into the decision to issue a mandatory evacuation order in the upper Angler Mountain neighborhood Tuesday morning.

“With the incoming storm and the winds changing direction … we just want to be prudent and proactive and obviously precautionary,” FitzSimons said. “It’s easier to move people out of these neighborhoods, like we did last night, while things are like this rather than a last-minute panic. So we ask for a little bit of grace. We ask for your patience.”

FitzSimons said he and other fire managers will continue to look for opportunities to allow evacuated residents back to into their homes temporarily. County staff members are currently credentialing evacuees at Silverthorne Town Hall so that, when allowed, officials can keep track of who returns to the evacuation zone and to ensure everyone makes it back out. Residents will not be allowed to return to their homes without being issued credentials.

Both FitzSimons and Bianchi also spoke to the importance of keeping drones out of the area.

“If (the Forest Service) has aircraft in the air and a drone flies up in the air, they’ve got to immediately ground all those aircraft,” FitzSimons said. “So if we ground all the aircraft, we’re not able to fight the fire because it is not safe at this point to put ground crews in the area. … I do have federal law enforcement partners … that will find these people flying drones, and they will go after them.”

Commissioner Josh Blanchard urged everyone to respond appropriately to evacuation and pre-evacuation orders.

“If you’re given that evacuation notice, we need you to leave immediately and safely,” Blanchard said. “Make sure that you have your credentials and the recommended items that you have with you.”

Blanchard also thanked community members who have reached out to offer support to evacuees and the numerous mutual-aid responders from neighboring communities.

“We know that Summit County is special,” Blanchard said. “We know that our mountain community pulls together to support one another in times of need in ways that are truly unique. … We will get through this together.”

11:35 a.m. The cause of the fire is under investigation. Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi noted that the fire started along a trail, hinting that it was likely human caused.

11:30 a.m. A public information hotline has been set up at 970-668-9700.

11:29 a.m. All evacuation and pre-evacuation areas total 617 homes, valued at $400 million, according to Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. As a reminder, the Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain neighborhoods are under mandatory evacuation orders. Residents on Bald Eagle Road, Fly Line Drive and below are currently under a pre-evacuation notice along with the South Forty neighborhood.

11:27 a.m. The fire is estimated at about 57 acres today, after growing about 40 acres overnight, according to Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi, who called the estimation a ballpark. He said the size of the fire was confirmed at 17 acres at 10 p.m. Monday, smaller than officials initially guessed. Bianchi said officials were surprised by the overnight growth.

11 a.m. Live update is set to start any minute at Silverthorne Town Hall, 601 Center Circle. Watch in English and Spanish at Facebook.com/summitdailynews.

10:31 a.m. The Summit County Office of Emergency Management has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the upper Angler Mountain neighborhood. Residents on Bald Eagle Road, Fly Line Drive and below are currently under a pre-evacuation notice.

Original story:

The mandatory evacuation order of the Hamilton Creek neighborhood will remain in place Tuesday, Sept. 28, while firefighters and aircraft work to contain the Ptarmigan Fire burning on U.S. Forest Service land near Silverthorne.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said Tuesday morning that the fire grew overnight, but he couldn’t provide an updated acreage. The latest update from the U.S. Forest Service on Monday night estimated that the fire was between 30 and 40 acres.

FitzSimons said the fire hasn’t reached any homes.

“It’s continuing to creep toward Hamilton Creek,” FitzSimons said. “It’s actually really odd; it’s creeping both north and south, so it’s not going east up and over.”

Two smoke plumes from the Ptarmigan Fire show the flames are spreading in opposite directions Tuesday, Sept. 28.
Meg Boyer/Summit Daily News

Pre-evacuation orders remain in place in the Angler Mountain Ranch and South Forty neighborhoods. FitzSimons said a pre-evacuation order has also been issued for Silverthorne Elementary School, though the school will operate as usual for now.

Officials have ordered a considerable amount of resources to combat the fire Tuesday, including three large air tankers, two single-engine air tankers, three helicopters and four hand crews. FitzSimons said officials believe it is still too dangerous for crews on the ground to engage the blaze, and firefighting operations will be primarily conducted through the air Tuesday. There are resources on the ground ready to step in if the fire continues to move toward residential areas.

“The public can expect quite the air show,” FitzSimons said. “… There is structure protection staged in those neighborhoods. There are six engines assigned to nothing but protecting homes.”

Officials will host two public meetings at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday at Silverthorne Town Hall to provide updates for community members.

FitzSimons said there will also be an opportunity for residents in the Hamilton Creek neighborhood to temporarily return to their homes to pick up any important items they may have left behind while evacuating. When that will happen has yet to be determined. Once a time is set, evacuees will be required to visit Silverthorne Town Hall to be credentialed before making their way to the road closure point at the bottom of Hamilton Creek neighborhood.

Officials are asking community members to stay out of the area whenever possible so that roads are clear of traffic for police and firefighting resources. FitzSimons also urged residents with drones to keep them grounded so they don’t interfere with other aircraft working to contain the fire.

“We’re having a real problem with drones,” he said. “It’s illegal to fly drones over wildfires, and if drones are in the air, we can’t fly.”

Recreational trails in the area remain closed to the public.

Ptarmigan Fire in Summit County: Evacuation order issued for all of Hamilton Creek

An air tanker makes a slurry drop on the Ptarmigan Fire on U.S. Forest Service land near Silverthorne on Monday, Sept. 27.
Lisa Robinson/Courtesy photo

8:41 p.m. Officials provided community members with an update on the Ptarmigan Fire at the Silverthorne Town Hall this evening, noting that it’s unlikely that residents in the upper Hamilton Creek area who have been evacuated will be able to return to their homes tonight.

Chris Stewart, deputy district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said that several aircraft provided initial attack on the fire this afternoon, including two small air tankers, a large air tanker and a helicopter. The aircraft have been grounded for the night, but Stewart said they would be back tomorrow morning to support firefighters.

Stewart noted that firefighters would remain in the area overnight to monitor the blaze and do reconnaissance work to determine how ground crews could best gain access and begin building containment Tuesday morning.

“Basically they’re going to be keeping an eye on everything in case we need to work with our partners if things did shift or once those ground resources get here (so) they’re ready to go,” Stewart said.

Officials are expecting the fire to calm down overnight due to colder temperatures and higher humidity, though it could pick back up Tuesday. Officials are urging residents in the area to frequently check news sites, social media channels and to look out for further emergency alerts.

Residents in the Angler Mountain neighborhood and the South Forty subdivision are currently under a pre-evacuation notice and should be ready to leave the area at any time.

“For those who are on pre-evacuation, don’t take that lightly,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. “Pack up; be ready to go if things change. We’re not expecting them to change, but be ready to go.”

Summit Fire Chief Travis Davis said he isn’t currently expecting the fire to grow much from its current size of 25-30 acres overnight.

“What’s happening up there now is what we call a dirty burn,” Davis said. “So what the fire is doing is it’s skulking around on the ground. It’s not very big until it finds this jackpot of dead trees and then it just takes off. So I can promise you — I don’t want to minimize it, this is the business we’re in and we see these things — but it looks worse than what it truly is at this point. …

“It doesn’t have that big, flaming wall that you see on a lot of big fires, and so it’s not throwing huge embers out front and starting spot fires. It really is just skunking around until it finds something dry enough that can burn, it shoots up into the air, we see a little black smoke and then it just kind of lays back down. Because we don’t have the right conditions — the high heat, the low humidity, the winds — what it’s doing right now is pretty much what you’re going to see. I don’t really think we’re going to see much growth.”

Both Davis and Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said the evacuation was precautionary.

“If it wasn’t I’d be telling you to get in your car and go,” FitzSimons said.

There is currently an evacuation shelter set up at Summit Middle School, located at 158 School Road in Frisco.

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence asked community members to reach out to residents in the area who may need a place to stay. She noted there would likely be traffic impacts Tuesday and asked community members to be respectful of firefighting operations.

“Depending on tomorrow, you could see road closures and delays in various areas,” Lawrence said. “That is all set up to fight the fire. … So let’s do what we can to stay out of folks way and make sure that people and helicopters can get across the road and do what they need to do.”

8:04 p.m. The South Forty subdivision is now under pre-evacuation notice, according to a Summit County alert. Angler Mountain neighborhood is also under a pre-evacuation notice. The entire Hamilton Creek neighborhood is still under mandatory evacuation.

8:01 p.m. Pet owners who need to evacuate and plan to stay at the Red Cross shelter can bring their pets to the Summit County Animal Control and Shelter, 58 Nancy’s Place in Frisco, until 9 p.m. Monday. After 9 p.m., pet owners can call the non-emergency dispatch line at 970-668-8600. The animal shelter will reopen at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28.

7:42 p.m. The mandatory evacuation order now includes the entire Hamilton Creek neighborhood, according to Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. The Angler Mountain neighborhood remains under a pre-evacuation notice.

“The fire is still active, and it’s just a little too close for comfort for Hamilton Creek,” FitzSimons said.

7:38 p.m. The American Red Cross is setting up a shelter for evacuees at Summit Middle School, 158 School Road in Frisco. The shelter should be established by about 8:40 p.m. Officials are asking anyone who has been evacuated to stop by the shelter and share their name and address even if they don’t intend to stay.

Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said it is unlikely that evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes tonight.

7:07 p.m. The Ptarmigan Fire has grown to between 25 and 30 acres, according to Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, who addressed a crowd at Silverthorne Town Hall at 7 p.m.

FitzSimons said there are about 291 homes in the Hamilton Creek neighborhood and about 57 in the Angler Mountain neighborhood.

6:33 p.m. The Silverthorne Town Hall, located at 601 Center Circle, has been designated as an evacuee reception site, according to an emergency alert from the county. There will be a briefing on the wildfire at the town hall at 7 p.m.

Officials are now calling the wildfire the Ptarmigan Fire.

Julia Scanlan/Courtesy video

6:15 p.m. Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said fire conditions are currently too dangerous for ground crews to try to combat the blaze.

“It’s still fairly small, but we’re seeing some active fire behavior up in there,” Lipsher said. “It’s burning in some pretty heavy timber with a mix of aspen and lodgepole pine. I know firsthand that there’s a lot of downed lodgepole up in that area.”

Lipsher said the fire was first reported at about 4:45 p.m.

An evacuation order remains in place for residents in upper Hamilton Creek on Lakeview Circle. A pre-evacuation notice remains in place for individuals in lower Hamilton Creek and Angler Mountain.

“They should be packing up to leave,” Lipsher said.

5:57 p.m. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has issued an evacuation order for residents of Lakeview Circle in the Hamilton Creek neighborhood. Residents should leave the area immediately.

A pre-evacuation notice has been issued for residents in the lower Hamilton Creek and Angler Mountain neighborhoods.

“This is just all a precaution because the wind keeps flipping directions,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “We’re just trying to be safe until the air assets get here.”

FitzSimons said he didn’t have an update on the current size of the fire, but he said it was “definitely growing.“ He noted a helicopter should be on scene any minute to begin providing air support.

5:37 p.m. The fire is currently about an acre in size and is burning in the Ptarmigan Peak area on U.S. Forest Service land, just outside of the designated wilderness area boundary, according to Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi.

“It’s probably about an acre in size and growing,” Bianchi said. “… We’ve got two single-engine air tankers on the way here. There is no personnel on the ground yet. We’re just trying to get some air tankers in route over there to dump a little water and get some eyes on it.”

Original story:

Firefighters are responding to a wildfire that ignited in the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness area north of Silverthorne on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 27. Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said no lives or structures are currently being threatened.

“Obviously, initial attack is everything, and Grand Junction is sending aircraft.” FitzSimons said. “It’s really high up, so I don’t think ground crews will be able to get to it, but we’ll see. It’s really early. … We are building up an attack.”

Officials are asking community members not to call 911 to report the smoke.

Breckenridge couple overwhelmed by community support following head-on car crash

Anthony Aragon and Bethany Vargas are pictured at a wedding on Bald Mountain. The two are back in Breckenridge after Vargas was severely injured in a car accident while moving to Florida.
Taylor Tennant/Courtesy photo

Just as longtime Breckenridge residents Bethany Vargas and Anthony Aragon were moving on to the next chapter of their lives, they were suddenly forced to take a few steps backward.

Vargas and Aragon were leaving Summit County to return to Vargas’ home state of Florida after they got engaged July 11. The pair started the cross-country drive Sept. 1, and about four hours into the trip, Vargas’ car was struck head-on by a driver who crossed the Interstate 70 median in Colby, Kansas. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

The couple drove in a caravan, with Aragon in front of Vargas, so Aragon watched the accident unfold in his rear-view mirror. With the help of a truck driver, he was able to pry open Vargas’ truck door and discovered she was severely injured.

Vargas was taken to a hospital in Kansas, where they decided to fly her to Swedish Medical Center in Denver. She had surgery to fix her arms and wrists with metal rods and screws. She also broke her ankle and shattered her heel, warranting a full leg cast. She broke the orbital bones behind her eye, too, requiring another surgery.

“I feel really grateful to be alive under the circumstances,” Vargas said. “I have a really long road of recovery ahead of me. I have had multiple surgeries already, but I will probably need more.”

The couple said they believe there was an angel in the truck with Vargas the day of the crash and that they’re blessed to be alive.

Their cat, Fleur, was also in the car with Vargas when the accident happened and was taken to an emergency vet. Vargas said Fleur is still recovering but is starting to get some of her sassy personality back.

Giampietro Pasta & Pizzeria in Breckenridge, where Aragon formerly worked as a manager, hosted multiple going away parties for the couple leading up to the accident. After the crash, the restaurant staff organized a fundraiser to help pay for medical bills, physical and emotional therapy, and rent for their Florida home.

Allyson Ertel is a server at the restaurant who remains a close friend of the couple.

“We’re all super close with them,” Ertel said. “We were just really excited for their new adventure. And when everything came to a screeching halt, we just knew that we had to chip in and help them in any way we could.”

Vargas said her medical bills will be close to $400,000 by the time she fully recovers, and a GoFundMe page created by the couple’s close friends has raised nearly $30,000.

“We were really grateful,” Aragon said about the help with expenses. “Our focus was on Bethany’s well-being and trying to get back home to where we could take care of her. … I think overall it’s going to really help us with some of these bills that we’re starting to receive.”

Giampietro hosted a silent auction and raffle Sept. 14 with all proceeds going to the couple. All of the servers working that night also donated 100% of their tips. The restaurant’s efforts raised over $13,000.

Giampietro’s General Manager Melissa Lee walked up and down the streets of Breckenridge asking local businesses for donations, too, and more than 30 businesses donated gifts and gift cards for the silent auction as well as money for Vargas and Aragon.

Lee said she was blown away by the community’s support, with people who knew Vargas and Aragon — as well as total strangers — opening their checkbooks.

“It gave us all a lot of faith back in the community. We were just saying there’s a lot of turmoil going on in the county right now,” Lee said. “This was just an opportunity for the whole community to come together and put all that aside and just focus on them.”

Vargas and Aragon said the support they have received has been a tremendous help, as neither is working during Vargas’ recovery. The couple is thankful to the community for the support, particularly the owners of Giampietro and Melanie Dunn, owner of BCB Salon and Vargas’ former employer.

“I always have said to my friends and people who live here that I felt like this community of locals, they’ll give you the shirt off their own back,” Vargas said. “They’re so kind and generous. I wasn’t there at the event, but I heard all about it — and to be able to hear about how people really stepped forward to put the event together and how absolutely generous they were and all of the support, I just am so grateful.”

Vargas and Aragon are at Vargas’ parents’ house in Breckenridge for the time being, playing it day by day. The couple still plans to move to Florida but is now focusing on Vargas’ recovery.

Summit Middle School student kayaks to school instead of taking the bus

Josh Smith kayaks Sept. 8 to Summit Middle School on Dillon Reservoir.
Jason Smith/Courtesy photo

A shortage of bus drivers at Summit School District has some students getting creative about getting to class.

Josh Smith, 12, is a Summit Middle School student and Boy Scout who got a kayak for his birthday a few years back. Given difficulties with busing this year, Josh decided he would take matters into his own hands and kayak to school.

“I’m always looking for new adventures, and I’m always trying to do cool stuff that I’ll remember,” Josh said. “I haven’t really used my kayak this summer, so I was thinking it’s pretty warm weather, and tomorrow I should kayak to school, because then I can tell everyone about it.”

On Sept. 8, Josh did just that. He and his father, Jason Smith, were up at 6 a.m. to load the kayak onto the car, and then the pair drove over to Heaton Bay on Dillon Dam Road. Josh set off for school on Dillon Reservoir at around 7 a.m.

“We put the kayak in, and it was really pretty,” Josh said. “And I turned on my GoPro, and just then the sun started to rise. So I took off, and the water was super reflective like a mirror, and then the sun started to rise, so it’s really pretty.”

Jason’s car said the temperature at the time was 34 degrees — which worried him — but he said he wasn’t about to change his mind.

“I didn’t like it when I dropped him in the water, and it was 34 degrees. If he falls, it’s going to be hypothermia,” Jason said. “I can easily say ‘no,’ but I think the consequences of ‘no’ are greater than the risk of falling in the water or being late to class.”

On his way over to school, Josh stopped to explore a small island. He said the whole trip took about 35-40 minutes and that he got to school a bit late. He walked into class still wearing his life jacket.

Josh Smith captured a picture from his GoPro as he kayaked to Summit Middle School on Dillon Reservoir the morning of Sept. 8.
Josh Smith/Courtesy photo

Josh pulled his kayak onto the beach next to the football field at the middle school and parked it there for the day before kayaking back to Heaton Bay to meet his dad after school. Josh left his cellphone and computer at school the night before so they would be safe should anything happen during the trip.

Jason made sure to keep an eye on Josh during his trip and was reassured when he saw Josh’s kayak on the school’s shore. Jason said letting Josh paddle his kayak to school was a no-brainer and said he was impressed by his son’s initiative.

“He’s got an adventurous spirit, and as a dad, you want to protect your son,” Jason said. “But you don’t want to hinder that adventurous spirit, so I encouraged him. … I want to reward somebody for getting out of their comfort zone, especially at age 12, and being willing to be daring and take some risks.”

Josh hopes to one day earn Eagle Scout recognition, and he is currently working to earn his kayaking merit badge.

“I’m going to earn my kayaking merit badge soon, so I thought for one of my requirements I would kayak to school,” Josh said. “I’m looking to get my Eagle Scout so that way I can go to the Air Force Academy.”

Josh said he would totally kayak to school again, and Jason said he would let him once the weather starts warming up. Jason enjoyed seeing his son accomplish something he set out to do himself and said it was a confidence builder for Josh.

“He was out there on his own. He wasn’t overcome by fear. He wasn’t overcome by negative thoughts,” Jason said. “He was thinking good thoughts (about) accomplishing something, and to me that’s something that I want to reward and encourage.”

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.”