Illegal campfire starts wildland blaze southwest of Carbondale
The exact scenario that federal land managers aimed to prevent by enacting a fire ban this spring unfolded anyway this week when a fire broke out about 11 miles southwest of Carbondale.
The fire was discovered Monday afternoon in the South Thompson Creek area in the vicinity of Parsnip Flats. “It was an escaped campfire,” said White River National Forest public information officer David Boyd.
A heavy helicopter and 15 firefighters from the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Unit were sent to the scene Tuesday. They contained the fire after it burned nearly 4 acres in dead and downed aspen trees and other timber, Boyd said. The helicopter was supporting the ground crews and making water drops. No structures were threatened.
The cause of the fire was disturbing to federal authorities because it meant someone was ignoring the fire ban in place for all national forest lands in Colorado and because someone didn’t take the proper steps of putting out a fire and leaving it unattended, according to Boyd.
The Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service has closed all developed facilities until at least May 31 as part of the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The agency doesn’t want its facilities to draw people at a time when social distancing and bans on gatherings are in place. In addition, the fire ban was put into effect so that large groups of firefighters wouldn’t have to gather.
Boyd said the firefighters on the Parsnip Flat’s fire maintained social distancing.
“They’re back on it today,” he said Wednesday. The fire didn’t grow Tuesday night but crews were strengthening containment lines Wednesday. Full containment was expected Wednesday night.
Conditions have dried out quickly in the Roaring Fork Valley and much of Colorado this spring because of a lack of moisture and wind. A red flag warning is in effect today from noon to 9 p.m. for Pitkin and Eagle counties for high winds and extreme fire conditions.
While it is only early May, Boyd said the fire didn’t surprise federal firefighters given the conditions. “You can get fires at any time,” he said.
Snow has melted off in many backcountry areas but vegetation hasn’t greened up yet at middle elevations, Boyd noted.