Teller Area Struck by Two Small Fires; Authorities Worry About Familiar Disasters Reoccurring

Severy Creek fire photo by CBS Denver

Memories of Hayman and Waldo Canyon Blazes Haunt Residents

~ by Trevor Phipps ~

Columns of fiery smoke have invaded the entire state of Colorado, including the Ute Pass region, creating much angst among residents and stirring up tragic memories.

Experts say that the smoke has been coming from four large wildfires currently burning in various parts of the state.

 Luckily, as fires plague the state and have caused serious problems in other distant areas, like California, the Ute Pass region has been spared by any major devastating wildfires—at least so far. But the luck of our region in avoiding the rude curses of Mother Nature, especially during a super dry summer, can only last so long.

Last week the region experienced two scares as two small fires broke out in or near Teller County.

The first scare came about last Tuesday when crews responded to a fire that started at a location on the far west side of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument south of Lake George. The blaze that was named the Grape Creek fire started on the side of a mountain and was caused by a lightning strike.

Crews responded to the scene quickly and they were able to establish 100 percent containment at around 5 p.m. the same day the fire started. According to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, the fire burned less than an acre before it was mopped up and contained by fire crews.

Then last Friday morning, authorities responded to an area on the north slope of Pike Peak after people saw plumes of smoking coming off the mountain. The blaze, named the Severy Creek fire, was started by a lightning strike in a rugged terrain area.

As soon as reports about the fire came in at around 10:30 a.m. Friday morning, fire crews including three engines and a helicopter responded to the scene. The fire only burned about a tenth of an acre and at around 5 p.m. on Friday, the U.S. Forest Service announced that the fire had been 100 percent contained.

The combination of the two small blazes igniting in the area, and the excessive amount of smoke being visible locally,  have conjured up memories of two major wildfires that devastated the region in the past. In 2002, much of Teller County was evacuated when the Hayman fire burned over 138,000 acres in Teller, Park, and Douglas Counties. This represented the largest fire in Colorado history.

In 2012, the area saw another serious threat when much of Woodland Park was evacuated during the Waldo Canyon fire that burned over 18,000 acres and took out over 340 structures.

However, the big fire currently raging near the Grand Junction area, the Pine Gulch fire, now ranks as the second largest, just behind the Hayman disaster. But unlike the Hayman, the Pine Gulch  fire hasn’t created nearly as much damage.

The fire danger is extremely high. Last week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis, followed in the footsteps of Teller County and other rural burgs, issued a  ban on open campfires and fireworks. The state-wide restrictions are similar to the Stage One ban already declared in Teller County earlier this summer.

“Now is not the time to party. Now is not the time to have campfires or fireworks. Use camp stoves, use public grills — but (the) campfires and fireworks risk is too great,” the governor said.

The state-wide ban will last for at least 30 days.