Firefighters in the past three days fueled a twofold growth of what is, in effect, an unintended and unscheduled prescribed burn in Doe Canyon, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“This is a naturally caused fire, which we are managing; we have decided to allow the fire to move across the landscape, but we are assisting it,” said Andy Lyon, a spokesman working with the Forest Service on the Doe Canyon Fire. “It’s growing primarily because we are adding fire.”
More than 50 firefighters were spread Gambel oak and ponderosa pine forest about 10 miles southeast of Dove Creek managing a fire that has grown to 1,650 acres as of Saturday evening.
Crews are helping the fire burn what it should and extinguishing it where it shouldn’t, Lyon said. Firefighters contained 49% of the perimeter by Saturday night. Lyon said crews expect to contain the low-intensity fire by July 15.
“That’s generally when we start getting afternoon thunderstorms, and we expect that once those start happening, fire activity will diminish,” he said.
Emergency personnel closed land west of Forest Road 504 between intersections with Forest Road 506 and all roads including 506A, 506B, 506E, 506M, 506K1 and 215. A spot fire sparked on the east side of Forest Road 504 on Friday night, Lyon said. Firefighters closed the affected area to the public by noon Saturday.
Forest roads 504 and 514 remain open with slight delays for equipment and personnel movement, Lyon said.
The lightning-sparked fire started June 18 in uninhabited Forest Service land at 7,800 feet elevation. Authorities learned of the blaze June 20. The fire grew to 10 acres by June 22, 90 acres by June 24 then 210 acres by June 25. Firefighters are working to prevent the fire from reaching the Dolores River and moving into nearby timber sale areas.
“Because of all the snow and moisture, the grasses and flowers are lush. They’re too wet to burn, for the most part. The only thing that’s dry enough to burn is the dead limbs, the stumps, the downed trees and the pine needles and the pine cones,” Lyon said. “This is a very low-severity fire; firefighters can stand right next to it; firefighters can put it out when it goes where we don’t want it.”
Crews have used drones armed with pingpong balls full of flammable powder and drip torches full of gasoline and diesel fuels to facilitate the natural fire’s growth, Lyon said. Fires like the one burning now once burned every six to 10 years in this part of the country – there are 200-year-old ponderosa pines in the area where firefighters are working with burn scars, Lyon said.
“Fire would naturally move through there, clean out the brush dead wood, and the other trees got healthier because they weren’t competing for resources limited here in this part of Colorado,” he said. “The fire releases nutrients, and grasses will green up right away. Wildlife move in immediately after fire cools. A little bit of rain and the grass will come back lusher than it did before, it’s very beneficial, good for grazing. This is a good fire.”