Specie Creek Fire

The Specie Creek Fire near Placerville began when an unattended campfire ignited nearby dry vegetation, according to fire authorities, shutting down the surrounding section of Highway 145 on Sunday for nearly three hours. (Courtesy photo)

Earlier this week, smoke filled the valleys of the Telluride region, with ash dust fluttering through the air in some locales. Near Placerville, the Specie Creek Fire was reported on Saturday afternoon and under control by Monday, after a coordinated response spearheaded initially by the Telluride Fire Protection Department (TFPD).

The fire, which burned approximately four-and-a-half acres, was the result of “an unattended fire at a campsite on BLM land” just west of Caddis Flats, according to district chief John Bennett. The details surrounding the fire’s origins are currently under investigation by the Bureau of Land Management.

“More than 50 staff and volunteers from multiple agencies, including Telluride Fire Protection District’s stations 1, 2, and 3; San Miguel Sheriff’s deputies; Norwood Fire; BLM; US Forest Service; and Colorado Department of Transportation responded to the incident,” said Susan Lilly, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office and TFPD. “Teams were able to control and mostly contain the fire, preventing it from jumping to the other side of the river or crossing the highway. No structures were damaged, and there were no injuries. Both lanes of traffic on Highway 145 were closed for almost three hours from the junction at Highway 62 at one end and from the top of Norwood Hill at the other end.”

Bennett also emphasized the cooperative effort undertaken to contain the fire as rapidly as possible with such steps as cutting fire lines on the west and east flanks and fortifying the lines with “wet lines,” spraying unburned surrounding areas with water. TFPD participates in a “mutual aid” system, an agreement between regional fire departments to respond when possible to fires outside of the immediate jurisdiction.

Though further afield, the East Canyon Fire west of Durango and the Loading Pen Fire northeast of Dolores, both started by lightning, also contributed to smoky skies this week. As of Wednesday, the East Canyon Fire was reported at 2,568 acres, while the Loading Pen Fire remained at approximately 35 acres.

Weather conditions in June have been “very dry and windy,” according to Dennis Philips, a meteorologist at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, factors that combine with current drought conditions across the state to increase the risk of wildfire.

“Luckily, the winds are going to start to die back a little bit and not be quite as strong, so some of the fire concerns are going to be lessened through the weekend,” he said. “There’s a system coming through, with maybe even a few showers, but unfortunately not a lot of precipitation with it,” adding that even without much rainfall, cooler temperatures and increased humidity can decrease wildfire risk.

Nonetheless, residents and visitors should remain vigilant when it comes to fire safety and stay informed of fire restrictions, with the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village currently under a Stage 2 fire ban, which prohibits campfires and fireworks.

It’s important to “know before you go,” said Lilly. “Be aware of and respect local fire restrictions before starting a campfire or controlled burn.”

She also offered prudent advice for smokers.

“Never discard a cigarette on the ground; dispose of carefully, preferably in a cup of water,” she said, while reminding drivers to “never park your vehicle on dry vegetation.”

In the event you find yourself in an area that permits campfires at some point this summer, being prepared means more than making sure you have marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers on hand.

“Always have a shovel and some water nearby in the event you need to extinguish the fire,” Lilly said. “Completely extinguish fires with proper dousing and cover with dirt before leaving.”