Crews Gain Upper Hand In Fight Against 403 Blaze

Nearby Residents Remain on Stand-by Alert; Officials Warn of Worsening Weather Conditions

Trevor Phipps

A sudden snowfall in the middle of last week helped  crews in battling the 403 Fire at the Park and Teller County, with much reported progress in extinguishing the flames.

However, extended forecasts don’t look good in efforts to slow the blaze down in the next week. The “403 Fire,” which threatened areas near Florissant, became the first major wildfire to strike the region this season. Stage 2 bans were implemented in Teller County, Woodland Park and Cripple Creek during the last week and a half, and electronic message signs flashed across Hwy. 24.

Mandatory evacuation notices were lifted a few days after the blaze broke out, but people in several subdivisions in Park and Teller Counties remain on pre-evacuation warnings. Last week, officials said that the fire lines cut by crews were holding for the time being, but elevated temperatures, dropping humidity, and increased winds forecasted this week could led to a turn for the worse.

As of last Saturday, it was announced that the fire had grown to 1,518 acres and crews had reached 65 percent containment. But, there were still some hotspots burning and there was an area with difficult terrain where the crews had trouble laying the fire line.

Last Saturday, crews were out at the scene of the blaze finding and putting out hot spots that had been identified Friday by the Multi-Mission Aircraft Flight. Crews were using the cooler temperatures on Saturday to make progress on the blaze before the weather was slated to be drier and warmer on Sunday.

After much speculation, authorities have concluded that the fire was a man-made disaster. In fact, they know  who and what caused the wildfire to ignite. According to the Park County Sheriff’s Office, the blaze was started by a Park County resident who reportedly dumped ashes from their fireplace in their backyard. Criminal charges are pending.

When the fire started on March 30, weather conditions were dry and winds speeds were up which caused the ashes to ignite the forest nearby. The winds that day, and the day after, fueled the blaze that grew from around 70 acres to more than 1,000.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office was able to determine exactly what caused the fire and which house the ashes came from. The sheriff said that the residents who ignited the blaze will be charged with starting the fire and will be prosecuted to the full extend of the law.

According to television interviews, authorities said that if proper precautions were taken, the blaze could have been avoided.

The fire was first reported on March 30 at around 11 a.m. Fire crews from the surrounding area arrived on scene shortly after to contain the rapidly growing fire.

By midnight the next morning, firefighters from the National Forest Service took over command of the containment efforts. But the high speed winds the area experienced during the first two days of the fire  hindered aircraft crews.

All residents within a five mile radius of the fire were on placed mandatory evacuation notices for the first few days. The fire remained at only 10 percent containment until Sunday April 2, when the weather changed and allowed crews to make more progress.

That day the fire was measured at 1,450 acres and crews had reached 35 percent containment. Once progress was gained, people were then let back into their homes.

The winter weather the area experienced last week seemed to keep the flames down to a point where crews could continue making progress on containment. Over the last week, containment jumped from 35 percent to the 65 percent level.

However, despite the success in containing the fire,  officials still warn area residents that weather could cause conditions to worsen quickly. Residents in the pre-evacuation area are asked to be on standby and to get ready to evacuate their homes if fire conditions become dangerous again.

For the most up to date information surrounding the fire and evacuation notices, residents can follow the Teller County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page and the 403 Fire Facebook Page for the most recent updates on fire conditions.

Update: As of April 13, all pre-evacuation orders were lifted and the fire is 100% contained.