Wednesday, August 27, 2003
With rain keeping the 3-week-old Sawtooth Fire at bay, the U.S. Forest Service announced Wed-nesday that it will reopen a portion of the Zirkel Wilderness closed because of fire danger.
Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said the 200-acre Sawtooth Fire is 50 percent contained. Specialized firefighting crews were taken off the fire Tuesday.
The Sawtooth Fire, very close to last year's Mount Zirkel Complex Fire, is three miles inside the wilderness boundary near Dia-mond Park. It is in steep rugged terrain where dead trees and beetle kill helped it spread.
With afternoon storms quelling the fire and more rain expected, the Forest Service decided to reduce land closed to the public to an area immediately around and downwind of the fire, where it is expected to travel if it grows.
The area in the North Fork of the Elk River drainage, east of Diamond Park is still closed. The Main Fork Trail, No. 1152, also is closed.
On Tuesday, the 20-person Pike Hot Shot crew left the fire. The crew had been monitoring the fire, defending the northern edge of the fire line, preparing for a burn out and watching for hot spots.
Forest Service Wilderness Manager Jon Halverson said the biggest concern was the fire would cross the North Fork of the Elk River, were it could run "for quite a ways."
To prevent the fire from moving in that direction, the Forest Service had prepared for a 50- to 75-acre controlled "burnout" Aug. 16. The burnout along the North Fork of the Elk River was intended to burn off fuels within a prescribed area so that once the wildfire reached the area it would lose momentum and not jump the river.
Because of rains that began near that date, the burnout was not needed, Ritschard said.
Halverson said the Sawtooth Fire would most likely not be extinguished until winter.
"It has the potential to get up and do something again," Halverson said.
A helicopter crew is still monitoring the fire.
An area north of the fire near Encampment Meadows has high-risk fuel. Halverson advises people to watch for smoke, especially dark-colored smoke, and to get out of its way.
Lightning sparked the fire at the end of July. Two weeks later, high winds caused the fire to jump from 35 to 200 acres.
The North Routt Fire Protection District was called on the scene Aug. 14 when fire officials worried the fire was approaching the Corbett Cabin, which sits on private property at the north end of Diamond Park.
The fire never reached the cabin. The closest homes were about six miles away on Seedhouse Road.