Wildfire Season Making Scary Comeback in Teller County

Fossil Beds Blaze Completely Tamed; Evacuation Orders Released

Trevor Phipps

Throughout much of the spring and summer, Teller County featured wet and soggy conditions that were a pain for recreation-goers, but helped quell wildfire outbreaks.

But the temporary reprieve from wildfire disasters is apparently over, with the fire season making a comeback due to a relatively dry and hot July.

These fears hit home last week with the raging (Florissant)  “Fossil Beds Fire” that scorched 14 acres, closed national  monument and nearby trails and created a near panic on some social media outlets. The fire also  led to the evacuation and pre-evacuation orders for several rural subdivisions.

 After getting doused with repeated rain during the late spring and early summer months, the region saw a heat wave when conditions dried out and temperatures increased for a few weeks straight.

Last Wednesday at around 1 p.m., the Teller County Sheriff’s Office reported that a wildfire ignited just south of Highway 24 near Divide and Florissant, reportedly caused by lightning. The fire was reported at the intersection of Manchester Drive and Lower Twin Rocks Road.

During the first hour the fire burned, enough growth took place for authorities to start putting evacuation and pre-evacuation warnings into effect. First, the sheriff’s office put a pre-evacuation warning in place for the Twin Rock and Palmer Village subdivisions.

Authorities then added the Druid Hills subdivision to pre-evacuation status as the blaze continued to burn. Then at around 2 p.m., the sheriff’s office put in a mandatory evacuation order for the Palmer Village subdivision.

But by 3 p.m. on Wednesday, the mandatory evacuation order for Palmer Village was lifted, but the pre-evacuation order remained. Shortly after the fire was reported just before 1 p.m., aircraft including helicopters could be seen in the area helping fight the flames.

Later that afternoon officials said that the fire had reached 14 acres and it was burning inside the Florissant Fossil Beds property on its eastern side. The blaze, dubbed the ”Fossil Beds Fire” burned in a section of the park east of Teller County Road 1 and north of Lower Twin Rocks Road.

That day, authorities closed access to all hiking trails in the region including the Barksdale Picnic area. The sheriff’s office also asked that nobody park their cars on the side of Lower Twin Rocks Road to allow access for emergency vehicles.

At around 6:30 p.m., the U.S. Forest Service announced that the fire was still 14 acres in size and that the crews had reached 90 percent containment, courtesy of heavy air support and a variety of resources from several agencies.  As of 8 p.m., all of the pre-evacuations notices in the area were lifted.

Then on Thursday, officials from the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument reported that the blaze was 100 percent contained. The crews stopped forward progression of the fire and the region saw large amounts of precipitation on Thursday and Friday.

Officials also announced last week that the blaze was caused by a lightning strike. By Thursday, the Florissant Fossil Beds had reopened all trails within the national monument including the Barksdale Picnic Area.

Fire Could Be a Sign of More Disasters

According to Teller County’s Office of Emergency Management Director Jay Teague, the fire season for the county has basically just begun after getting doused with a series of hot and dry days. But, he said that a lot of the fuels in the area still have high moisture levels.

“With the ‘green-up’ we had, the fuel moistures are looking pretty good except for the trees,” Teague explained. “The Ponderosa pines are drying out pretty good. But, as far as rate of spread goes, fires are still moving pretty slow. That’s why we were able to catch that one (Fossil Beds Fire) as quick as we did.”

He said that the fire still has some heavier fuels burning in the interior, but there is good containment around the entire fire’s perimeter. Last month, Teague’s office and several organizations in the area held their Emergency Preparedness Day to help people develop plans for disasters like wildfires.

Authorities in the area continue to caution residents that a wildfire or other disaster could still happen at any moment. This point was stressed by the Teller County commissioners during last week’s regular meeting. “This was a wake-up call,” said Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams.