Child’s play suspected cause of wildfire |

Child’s play suspected cause of wildfire

Tamara Miller
NWS Edwards Fire SM 3-26 Vail Daily/Shane Macomber An Eagle River Fire Proction District firefighter puts a smoldering log out Friday with a shovel after a fire near an Edwards residential area broke out.

A middle-school student’s experiment with a class project apparently sparked a small brushfire Friday afternoon in an Edwards neighborhood, firefighters said.

While Eagle River Fire Protection firefighters were able to contain the fire in 10 minutes, officials are concerned about what an early beginning to the wildfire season could mean for the mountains.

“It’s kind of early in the season for us to be having these kind of wildfires,” said fire engineer Jeff Dragan. “Our fire danger is definitely creeping up to be a busy summer.”

The fire is actually the second wildfire to occur in the area already this year – the Eagle River Fire Protection District responded to a small grass fire in the Singletree neighborhood on March 14.

According to neighbors, a young boy was working on a school project in his backyard when he ignited a rocket attached to a mouse trap. The rocket shot up into a hill behind the house, setting fire to dry brush, said Abel Medrano Jr., an eighth-grader at Berry Creek Middle School. Eagle County public school students are on spring break this week.

“I was inside listening to music,” Medrano said. “Then a firefighter knocked on our door.”

Medrano said he learned the cause of the fire from the boy, who was the one who called 9-1-1 for help.

“I think we are going to be in a lot of trouble this summer,” said Graham Bultemeier, another Berry Creek Middle School eighth-grader who was watching firefighters extinguish the flames.

The fire, which started around noon, burned about 50 feet behind a row of homes on the backside of Edwards Village Boulevard. Dry, warm and windy conditions likely fueled the fire, which generated flames about 12 to 15 feet high, Dragan said. No one was injured by the flames, which burned only about an acre of brush and dead trees and caused slight damage to one backyard fence, he said.

The fire investigator is working with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to determine the boy’s role in the fire, said Deputy Chief Carol Mulson of the Eagle River Fire Protection District.

When neighbor Gerry Bortz smelled smoke, she figured it was coming from the fire U.S. Forest Service crews have set south of Gypsum. But then she saw fire trucks pull up on her street. Realizing her next door neighbors weren’t home, Bortz climbed into their backyard and retrieved their dog, Shrimp.

She and a group of friends stood on a driveway and watched firefighters at work on the blaze. “It’s really dry out,” she said. “This is supposed to be mud season. Mud season ended two weeks ago.”

So far this March has been one of the driest on record. Average precipitation for March in Avon is 16.5 inches, yet only 3.5 inches have fallen so far, according to Frank Doll, a resident who monitors the area for the National Weather Service. Temperatures, at 60 to 70 degrees, have also been higher than normal throughout Eagle County.

Despite this, there are no plans to declare an outdoor fire ban in Eagle County any time soon. County and U.S. Forest Service officials typically begin considering such a ban in May or June. Summit County officials, on the other hand, are already considering declaring a ban.

An outdoor fire ban prohibits the use of solid-fuel fires except in constructed fire pits with a grate. Only gas-fueled stoves and grills are allowed on public lands.

Dragan urged residents and tourists to be mindful of the increased fire risk.

“Be aware of what you are doing,” he said. “Since there aren’t any bans currently in place, just be careful and be aware of where you are.

“If you are lighting any type of fire, whether it be cigarettes or a campfire,” he added, “there is a high potential for a wildland fire.”

Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.

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