Dotsero fire slows it run
Light winds, higher humidity and cloud cover slowed the 1,216-acre Dotsero Crater Fire to a smolder Saturday as fire crews worked to contain it.”The fire is not real active right now because the winds didn’t pick up,” said fire information officer Patricia McGuire. She said the fire is not torching any of the trees but there are still open flames in many areas.Pictures of the fire show it was not a high-intensity blaze. Many blackened standing trees remain.That pause in the fire’s run, coupled with the number of roads in the area, allowed firefighters to work in close with engines and hose down active areas of the fire, McGuire said. The fire is partially contained, although McGuire did not have an estimate of the percentage.It started Friday afternoon at approximately 2:30 northeast of the volcanic crater just north of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park. The fire burned a mile-wide swath, two and one-half miles long just north of the interstate through pinion, juniper and sagebrush-covered hills between Gypsum and Dotsero.No homes were threatened but a telecommunications tower for cell phones and radios sustained some damage.Slurry bombers and helicopters were used to snuff hot spots and to allow crews to anchor fire lines.Two more 20-person hand crews, one from North Dakota and one from Idaho, will be working on firelines tonight and tomorrow, McGuire said.One firefighter was taken to Valley View Hospital complaining of stomach pain, McGuire said.Human activity is the suspected cause of the fire because there has been no lightning in the area for more than a month.That lack of lightning and rain brings fire danger to levels it reached at the height of last year’s unprecedented drought.Plentiful spring rains this year may actually have increased the fire danger with heavy growth of grasses and shrubs that can cause a fire to spread quickly.The size of the fire was accurately determined using global positioning satellites, McGuire said.Crane Park FireA second and as yet uncontained fire is burning in the Flat Tops just west of the Deep Creek Overlook. It’s approximately 20-acres in size and 16 smokejumpers and 14 firefighters aided by slurry bombers and a fire engine, are working to contain it.That fire was reported at approximately 4 p.m. Friday, and is burning in meadows, mixed brush and heavy timber.”It’s not real active right now,” said Interagency Fire Officer Phil Bowden. “It’s not really moving on the ground. Trees are torching out it keeps hop-scotching along.”Human activity is the suspected cause of the fire.Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or email@example.comShow-cause inquiry ruffles feathersCliff ThompsonIn the maelstrom following basketball star Kobe Bryant’s arrest, an inquiry about securing county legal services to represent the Eagle County sheriff in a show-cause hearing versus the district attorney has added a little more fuel to the mix.It also has county officials scrambling to distance themselves from the issue.Bryant was arrested July 4, on suspicion of sexual assault of a 19-year-old employee of the Lodge at Cordillera. That arrest sparked controversy both because of its celebrity status and its process. Sheriff Joe Hoy bypassed District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and instead had a Clear Creek County judge review the evidence prior to the arrest. That judge subsequently sealed records to “protect the rights of the accused.”Hurlbert has held off on whether to file charges, pending receipt of physical evidence analysis, including DNA samples, from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. He said he expects to receive the analysis this coming week.Relations between the departments have been strained in the last year with heavy turnover in the District Attorney’s Office, which has hampered some court cases. Sheriff’s officers have been overheard describing the DA as a “pussy.”Relations were further strained when Bryant was arrested without the knowledge of the district attorney, who had assured Bryant’s lawyers that no action would be taken until after the Fourth of July weekend.Both Hurlbert and Hoy are new at their jobs. Hoy was elected sheriff in November, and Hurlbert was appointed in December by the governor.The latest inquiry into legal services – viewed in some circles as yet another attempt to end-run the district attorney – was made Wednesday by a member of the Sheriff’s Office.Hoy hotly denied that the inquiry ever happened.”No one from my office made an inquiry to request a show-cause hearing,” he said. “I did not authorize it. We didn’t even think of it.”Some observers close to the case said they believe the inquiry may have been made without Hoy’s knowledge.But County Administrator Jack Ingstad acknowledged that Thursday the county recommended the Sheriff’s Office use the Denver law firm of Hall & Evans, which the county has used for special circumstances in the past. That keeps the county out of a minefield of conflicts between two departments it supports financially.”We wanted to stay neutral in case there is a disagreement between the DA and sheriff on how to proceed (with the Bryant case),” said Ingstad. “We fund both the sheriff and the DA.””I won’t deny it (the inquiry) happened,” said one county official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We support both offices, and we’re not going to take sides. We’re not getting involved in any battle, and we’re not taking sides.”News of the inquiry blindsided Hurlbert, who is awaiting the physical evidence test results before deciding on what if any charges to file against Bryant.A show-cause hearing is a request for legal justification for a course of action. What it could be used for in the Bryant case is speculative because to date no such order has been requested. It has reached only the inquiry stage.Hoy’s office also has been using the law firm for advice on how to handle some of the other legal questions in the case, such as when and if to release the booking mug shot of Bryant, which the Sheriff’s Office released Friday afternoon.In the blizzard of stories that followed Bryant’s arrest, the DA and sheriff have been bruised in the court of public opinion.Hoy seemed to extend a public olive branch to the district attorney.”The DA is in the middle of a firestorm; he’s getting a lot of heat,” Hoy said. “People need to back off on him so he can do his job right.”Of course, the most pressure on the District Attorney’s Office came from the sheriff’s decision to arrest Bryant without informing the district attorney and before Hurlbert had begun examining the case to determine whether charges were merited.Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or firstname.lastname@example.orgConservation deadline approachesVeronica WhitneyConservationists say the opportunity to put a conservation easement on the 4,300-acre Bair Ranch could pass by if they can’t find $3 million soon.”This is a timing issue,” says Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. “Unfortunately, it’s just a matter of a month and not years. It’s tragic to me that we would loose the ability to protect 4,300-acres of land forever because of an issue of three or four months to wait to make it happen.”Sell or subdivideFor the past three years, conservationists have been talking to Craig Bair, owner of the sheep ranch in Glenwood Canyon, about a conservation easement. To continue ranching there, Bair has said he needs either to sell the land or put it under a $5 million conservation easement. He has said he would use most of the easement money to consolidate his ranch – which otherwise would be subdivided by his brother if Craig Bair sells his portion of the ranch.Bair now says he can’t wait anymore.”I just gave them until July 27 to tell me if they can do it,” Bair says. “Then, we’ll shake hands and we’re done. I gave it three years; I figure that’s long enough.”An easement on the Bair Ranch would eliminate all future subdivision possibilities, protect its agricultural heritage, keep the land on the tax rolls and preserve its scenic value, says Tom Macy, director of The Conservation Fund in Boulder, one of the partners in the proposed easement.Easement timelineCohagen says there’s “a huge sense of urgency” to know if the county commissioners support this project.”We can’t hold back the Bairs any longer,” she says. “They have been working on this for three years. (But) it would be horrible to have $2 million in federal and state grants leaving the county.”In May, Cohagen, John Hereford, executive director of GOCO, and Macy – all partners in the deal – asked the commissioners to help with the easement.The money requested would add up to $1.9 million in grants already received for the project. The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, has committed another $1.5 million, and the state lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program, or GOCO, which offers funding for open space and park acquisition, has pledged $400,000.Cohagen has asked Eagle County commissioners to see if they could commit money that will be available next year through the new open-space tax passed by voters last year. The tax is expected to bring an estimated $3 million into the county’s coffers next year.Long-term goalsCounty Commissioner Tom Stone says he is concerned with the legality of using open-space tax money.”It would be irresponsible to commit open-space tax money at this point,” Stone says. “I’m mostly concerned whether we are complying with the ballot language passed by voters, which requires that there’s an advisory committee to approve open space projects.”Cohagen says she won’t know how much money they have to raise until the county knows how much it’s willing to commit.”My question is, are there other ways they are willing to explore to provide some money?” she said.County Administrator Jack Ingstad has told the commissioners he will explore the possibility of using capital improvement money if it’s possible to push some projects back.”I think there are many ways for us to finance this project,” says Commissioner Arn Menconi. “There’s definitely a way to do it, if there’s a political way.”Cohagen says the ballot language doesn’t preclude the commissioners to use other funds for open-space acquisitions.”Everybody wants to do the right thing,” she says. “We need to see how we can balance doing what is right short-term with what is right forever. This investment will benefit future generations.”Christine Quinlan a project manager for The Conservation Fund, calls the project a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.””If Craig Bair is forced to sell part of the ranch, there won’t be a conservation easement deal,” she says.Quinlan has appealed to both Eagle and Garfield counties – 30 percent of the ranch is in Garfield County – for help.”Timing is the key here,” she says. “We have met with Garfield County officials, who have told us they are considering what they can do.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.