Snow Storm Temporarily Halts Flurry of Threatening Wildfires

Residents No Longer Face Evacuation Orders; Active Season of Blazes Predicted

Trevor Phipps

Thanks to Mother Nature and some valiant response efforts,  three raging fires near Teller County have reached a 100 percent containment, and property owners aren’t facing any evacuation orders.

But the blazes still struck fear in local residents, who remember devastating blazes of the past. In the past few weeks, the 403 Fire, Rampart Fire and Badger Creek Fire all burned lands that were a little too close for comfort for Teller residents.  In fact, at one point, the city of Woodland Park was even threatened.

The way the 403 Fire was fueled by high speed winds and grew enormously in a short time period, reminded locals of the Hayman Fire that took place more than 20 years ago. At the time, this raged as the state’s largest wildfire. Luckily the 403 Fire did not quite get to the size of the Hayman, but it drew comparisons with the massive way it spread in such a short time. And it brought back memories for many Teller residents who got previously evacuated from the Hayman.

And then last week, a blaze ignited near Rampart Range Reservoir on the westside of El Paso County near the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar. The fire only reached 20 acres before full containment was established, but residents near the fire were reminded of the destruction the Waldo Canyon Fire caused more than 10 years ago. At one point, fears even escalated that parts of the Woodland Park area would face evacuation status.

The following are the updates regarding the latest fires to strike our region in what could become an active fire season. Despite the moisture that provided our region with needed relief on Friday, Stage 2 fire bans are still in place.

403 Fire

The 403 Fire, which started on March 30 and marked the area’s first major blaze of the year, was fully contained last Thursday night after burning 1,559 acres of forest land on the east side of Park County. Last week, all residents, including several subdivisions in Teller, had been taken off pre-evacuation notices. The blaze did not take any structures or cause injury or a loss of life, but it still took two weeks for crews to achieve full containment.

After the fire was fully contained last Thursday night, federal authorities pulled out of the area and left the remainder of the firefighting efforts to local crews. At the end of last week, there were still some points of heat inside the fire and crews continued daily patrols of the area to ensure a secure perimeter and monitor the remaining sources of smoke.

Officials say that the fire was started by a resident who dumped ashes from their fireplace into their backyard. The Park County Sheriff’s Office said that the resident would be facing criminal charges for starting the blaze.

Rampart Fire

Woodland Park residents were shocked last Tuesday when many saw a smoke plume billowing from the top of the Rampart Range mountains near the east side of the city. At around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, alerts across the county were sent out advising people on the southeast side of Woodland Park that they were on a pre-evacuation notice.

Crews were able to quickly get on the blaze and started battling it Tuesday afternoon. A single engine tanker could be seen making drops on the blaze to prevent it from spreading.

Later that afternoon, the pre-evacuation notices for certain parts of Woodland Park were removed due to fire crews being able to quickly establish some containment. For the next couple days after the blaze, around 50 firefighters from surrounding areas and a single engine aircraft worked on getting full containment.

By last Thursday, it was announced that the fire was fully contained and that it had burned 20 acres of National Forest land. Crews were still on scene after reaching full containment to patrol the blaze as heavy fuels were still burning within the fire line.

The cause of the fire has not yet been released.

Badger Creek Fire

Last Wednesday, another blaze broke out in Park County south of Hartsel coined the Badger Creek Fire. After the fire ignited, winds and dry weather conditions caused it to spread quickly.

The day after the fire started, crews were concerned that their efforts might not be as effective since the weather forecast predicted wind gusts of over 45 mph and humidity levels under 15 percent. However, it was announced on Thursday that fire crews had reached 100 percent containment and the fire had only burned 41 acres.

No structures were lost during the blaze, but one firefighter suffered superficial burns during the response. After last Thursday, fire crews were still on scene to monitor hot spots within the fire area and residents were alerted that smoke could still be seen in the region.

Also on Thursday, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw announced that the office would be pressing criminal charges related to how the blaze ignited. Fire investigators said that they believe the fire started due to “a homeowner’s careless actions on their private property” which was a violation of the local fire ban.