Small Vail Mountain wildfire snuffed |

Small Vail Mountain wildfire snuffed

Cliff Thompson

The quarter-acre blaze in the middle island of timber, dubbed the Sun Down Fire, was ignited by a lightning strike during a rain storm several days earlier, fire officials said.

Eighteen firefighters – a relatively large initial wildland firefighting force, consisting of Forest Service, Vail Resorts employees and local Vail and Eagle River firefighters – had the fire contained by evening. The smoldering fuel was fanned to life by wind and hot, dry conditions. It was located about two-thirds of the way down the bowl near the Sundown Catwalk.

“It took so long to get there we erred on the side of caution,” said Interagency Fire Officer Phil Bowden. “It probably wouldn’t have spread too quickly because it was a patch of trees surrounded by the bowl.”

The fire demanded a heavy response, said Holy Cross District Ranger Cal Wettstein.

“Whenever we get a (fire) in or around Vail, we’ll be pretty aggressive,” he said. “It comes down to the values at risk in the wildland urban interface.”

Vail Resorts’ Brian McCartney said the two loads of fire retardant dropped by the air tanker significantly reduced the smoke from the fire.

“The fire crews were just unbelievable,” he said, “I just can’t say enough.”

Crews remained on the scene Sunday night and into Monday, mopping up hot spots. But it wasn’t all hardship -Vail Resorts gourmet kitchens supplied the crews with food.

Fires this year have gotten more attention than usual because of a region-wide drought that has created tinder-dry conditions – and some rapidly spreading wildfires. More than 400,000 acres of Colorado’s wildlands have burned so far this fire season. A statewide ban on open fires has been in effect all summer.

Weather patterns that produce monsoonal rains fed by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and California have been replaced by a westerly flow of hot and dry air. That has dried out the forests and increasing the fire danger that was reduced briefly by widespread rains.

Another fire Saturday on the northeast flank of Hardscrabble Mountain, five miles south of Eagle, was contained by fire crews. It, too, was caused by an earlier lightning strike.

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