Friday, July 22, 2011

Morning La Plata County Fire Update

Fire crews were working on 4 significant fires on Thursday. Three have continued operations today.

Cracker Fire - Flat Canyon, west of CR 105
Fire District: Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District
Status: Burning on private land. 6-8 acres. Steep hillside with poor access. Hand lines around perimeter completed. No structures threatened.
Resources: FLMFPD and USFS Red Rocks
Continued mop-up operations today

Johnny Pond Fire - south of end of CR 106
Fire District: BIA
Status: Started same time as Repeat Fire. 4 Trees. Controlled, did not spread. No structures were threatened

Repeat Fire - west of CR 135
Fire District: Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District
Status: Burning on private land. 10-12 acres. Small arroyo with partial access. Dozer and hand lines around perimeter nearly completed. Structures protected.
Resources: FLMFPD, Upper Colorado River IA Type-II Wildland crew
Expect completion of lines and mop-up operations today

334 Fire - near intersection of CR 334 and CR 336
Fire District: Los Pinos Fire Protection District.
Status: Burning on private land. 5-6 acres. Low slope with good access. Hose lines around perimeter mostly completed. No structures threatened.
Resources: LPFPD, Upper Pine River Fire Protection District
Expect completions of lines and mop-up operations today

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Repeat Fire" Update 2 - Fire Pictures

Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District - Communications 
Upper Colorado River Interagency Type 2 Wildland Crew

Keeping an eye on operations
La Plata County Emergency Manager - Butch Knowlton
Smokey Sunset
NewAir -H122 heading in for another water drop
Fort Lewis Mesa Auxiliary taking care of the crews
Tom McNamara - La Plata County OEM
La Plata County Road and Bridge tending the tenders
In the trenches

La Plata County Road and Bridge 
Fort Lewis Mesa 6x6 thanks to the Colorado State Forest Service
Last Drop of the day

IC - Chief Ebner
Communications Guru
Setting up for morning
Filling the portable pond for morning operations

"Repeat Fire" Update

9:45 PM Crews were successfully able to defend the threatened homes from the advancing flames. No structures were damaged.The natural fuels growing close to the homes increased the threat to the homes on the rim of the arroyo. Crews from Fort Lewis Mesa, Upper Pine Fire and Durango Fire Rescue built lines where they could. La Plata County Road and Bridge sent a grader around the East rim of the fire behind the homes and graded access for the brush trucks to get close to the flames. The New Air Helicopter worked on hot spots.
The Upper Colorado River USFS Wildland Crew from Grand Junction will be working late into the night with Fort Lewis Mesa to hopefully complete the lines around the fire. Fire activity calmed considerably once the sun went down and crews have a good handle on things.
Tomorrow the Colorado River crew will return with several Fort Lewis Mesa brush trucks to mop up and extinguish hot spots. We don't expect to need air support to complete the mission and the homes are no longer threatened.

"Repeat Fire" Burning Near CR135

Around 4:30 this afternoon, a fire broke out in an arroyo on the west side of the 1100 block of County Road 135. The fire burned across the arroyo and began up the east side toward 3 homes and several outbuildings. Fort Lewis Mesa Fire's primary goal has been to protect the homes first. Over 10 trucks (brush trucks, brush tankers and engines) are working on the fire. A grader and backhoe are building fire lines. NewAir helicopter is dropping water buckets and La Plata County Road and Bridge has two water trucks tending to the fire equipment. Approximately 20-25 personnel are attacking the fire at this time.
A Type II Interagency 20 person crew should be on scene momentarily.
The fire is approximately 5-6 acres and is actively burning in sage brush and juniper. Three residences are threatened. 8mph winds are pushing the fire NE towards the homes.

"Cracker Fire" Resources

These combined resources have engaged in the firefighting efforts:
  •  Fort Lewis Mesa Fire as Incident Command and several teams
  • Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Auxiliary
  • Mesa Verde Wildland Fire
  • 2 Engines from DFRA and crew
  • Personnel from Upper Pine Fire -Fuels Mitigation crew. 
  • SUIT BIA crew
  • New Air Helicopter
  • Two Federal SEAT aircraft
  • USFS Durango Helitac
  • San Juan Hot Shots from SJNF
  • Red Rocks Hot Shots from Moab
  • Colorado River Wildland Crew out of Grand Junction
  • Support from neighbors and ranchers for helicopters to dip for water
Thanks to all!

"Cracker Fire" Press Release

July 21, 2011
12:55 p.m.


Durango, CO – The Cracker Fire is located 8 miles south of Hwy 160, west of County Road 105 in Flat Canyon. The fire was dispatched to Fort Lewis Mesa Fire shortly before 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. The ¼ acre fire quickly grew to approximately 6 acres on densely covered, steep terrain. Initial attack was made by crews and equipment from Fort Lewis Mesa Fire, United States Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)/Southern Ute Indian Tribe (SUIT), Upper Pine Fire and Durango Fire Rescue Authority. Air support was provided Wednesday afternoon by bucket drops from a light helicopter and two SEAT aircraft (Single Engine Air Tanker).  At 8:30 p.m., command was turned over from Chief Ebner of Fort Lewis Mesa Fire to an Interagency Type III Incident Management Team.
Favorable weather has helped remaining crews keep the fire from spreading. Incident Command reported that overnight, a fire line was completed around 75% of the perimeter
This morning, the regional crews returned to the fire line in attempt to complete the line around the perimeter. Air support is being provided by the USFS Durango Helitac medium helicopter which will be working on the steep rocky terrain throughout this morning. The first of two Federal 10-person wildland crews arrived mid-morning and a second will arrive this afternoon. The NewAir light helicopter will be making bucket drops on the fire this afternoon.
Crews are optimistic that they will have 100% containment by this evening. Incident command hopes to pull crews off the fire tonight and begin mop-up in the morning.
This fire had a very high potential for spreading in the steep and narrow canyons. Calm winds and higher humidity have greatly helped the firefighting efforts.
Butch Knowlton, Director of Emergency Preparedness, praised the timely efforts of firefighting personnel in getting fire lines established and for the assistance of Federal and BIA/SUIT crews and the support of the NewAir helicopter.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cracker Fire in Cherry Creek

Cracker Fire: 
At approximately 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, Fort Lewis Mesa Fire was called to smoke in the area of the 8000 block of County Road 105, Cherry Creek. A 1/4 acre fire was located in Flat Canyon west of Cherry Creek. Within an hour and a half it had grown to over 3 acres. The fire is burning in steep terrain on private land surrounded by BLM and State property. Several ground crews worked on building line on accessible portions of the fire while one light helicopter dropped water and 2 SEAT aircraft dumped retardant over the steeper areas. by the close of operations at 9:30 this evening the fire had grown to approximately 6 acres. 
Efforts will be suspended for the night as calm winds and higher humidity hold the fire down. 
Several hand crews and one light helicopter will work the fire all day tomorrow. A medium helicopter is scheduled to support the efforts for the morning hours. 
No homes are threatened at this time. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eolus Catwalk Rescue - La Plata County Search and Rescue

On Saturday evening La Plata County Search and Rescue performed a dramatic rescue of of a man marooned just below the 14,000 ft peak of Mt. Eolus in the the San Juan Mountains above Durango. 

At 9:15 Saturday morning, a climbing party of three sent a message by SPOT device to family that they had summited Mt. Eolus. At 9:43 they again sent a message that they had begun the return decent to the Chicago Basin. At 10:16 another message was sent. This time it was by pushing the emergency button on the SPOT indicating that something was seriously wrong. At 11:00am our Durango 911 Dispatch received information of the SPOT emergency activation. The location we received plotted out to the west side of the catwalk several hundred feet below the peak.

After locating a capable helicopter and paging members of La Plata County Search and Rescue's technical rescue team, a landing zone was set up at Rockwood. Just before 2:00 the first team started the flight up to the peak. When they arrived in the area only one of the three climbing partners was able to be seen from the air, and was on the east side of the catwalk. 

With no signs of the others, the first rescuers were inserted at the opposite end of the catwalk on to a ledge several hundred feet below. After 40 minutes the rescuers had climbed and traversed to the subject. We then learned that on the climbers' decent, two of the members in the party lost footing on a steep snow field and slid 30-50 ft into a rock field. One man sustained a serious lower leg injury. Another was reported to also have been injured. The two men who could still walk had descended to the Chicago Basin to find aid from others. 

Two more pair of rescuers with a host of additional equipment for the long descent were ferried into the insertion point
Rescuers were presented with only very options for extraction. The first was a long descent through the granite rubble and multiple pitches. 
You can take a look at others' pictures of the area HERE

Unfortunately, the risk of falling rock would have made this extremely difficult and dangerous. The next option would include short hauling the patient hanging in a litter from the helicopter and bringing him to a more suitable landing area to be placed into the helicopter. This also had a high level of danger for all. Severe thunderstorms had pummeled the area earlier in the day and were again building from the south and west. A solution was found with the least risk; an experienced decision that proved successful. 

After stabilizing the injuries, the rescuers carried the climber and traversed across the east face of the mountain to a saddle between the 14,000ft peaks Mt. Eolus and North Eolus at the south end of the catwalk. At 5:10 the NewAir helicopter was able to hover onto the 13,700 ft ledge and the injured man was lifted to a waiting ambulance at Rockwood. 

At 5:21 the NewAir helicopter landed at Rockwood and the climber was transferred to a waiting DFRA ambulance. The climber was then transported to Mercy Medical Center for treatment. The helicopter made another trip to the insertion point to retrieve gear and two trips in to Twin Lakes to extract the 4 man, 2 woman rescue crew from that lower elevation in order to lift 3 passengers at a time.

Only by years of experience and training was this rescue made possible. Thanks to all the dedicated volunteers at La Plata County SAR!

This was the second rescue in the Chicago Basin in 7 days. 

Butch Knowlton, La Plata County Director of Emergency Preparedness and Director of Search and Rescue says:
If the aircraft was not able to lift the man from the saddle of the mountain, rescuers would have been forced to lower the man down the near vertical slope some 1200 ft below. Rescuers were fortunate to have favorable weather during the rescue operation. Heavy thunderstorms had been in the area throughout the previous 24 hours. Rescuers were removed from the area just as heavy storms moved in from the south.
Butch Knowlton encourages everyone using the backcountry and trails in Colorado to purchase a CORSAR card or other license (Hunting, fishing, OHV, Snowmobile, boat) that pays into the Colorado SAR fund so that the Sheriffs and Counties can be reimbursed for these extremely expensive rescues.