Officials in the area around the 42,000 acre Bridger Fire in the Piñon Canyon Maneuver and Comanche National Grasslands said the fire is hard to fight because of the many canyons in the region.
The blaze has moved to private ranch land and eight ranch homes are threatened, said Steve Segin, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.
Ranch owners scrambled to move their cattle and horses to safety.
Lon Robertson, who is the owner of the Kim Outpost general store in Kim, and is paramedic director of the Kim Volunteer Fire Department, said fire managers marshaling resources to fight the fire are reluctant to put ground crews into the canyons. He said a sudden flare-up would move faster than the firefighters and could trap them.
“We sure don’t want to put anybody at risk,” said Robertson.
He also said fire managers plan an aerial survey to pinpoint where the worst areas of fire.
“It is hard to fight the fire if you can’t see where it is,” he said.
He said volunteer firefighters from Kim, Hoehne, Fisher’s Peak, Stonewall and Branson are being stationed near or at the Beatty Canyon Ranch, the Doherty Ranch, and the JE Canyon Ranch.
Steve Wooten, who owns the Beatty Canyon Ranch, said that fire has scorched about about 2,000 acres on the Beatty Canyon and JE Canyon ranches.
Wooten said that the canyons can be as deep as 1,000 feet and up to 2 miles wide. He said the canyon bottoms are rich in vegetation and that is where most ranchers graze their cattle.
His wife, Joy Wooten, said the fire is close to the confluence of the Purgatory River and Chacuaco Creek, where their cattle graze.
Joy Wooten said the cattle and their calves started moving instinctively away from the flames, but gates were opened to allow them to flee.
Joy Wooten said the fire is a little more than 3 miles from the ranch owned by her aunt and uncle, John and Carolyn Doherty.
Helicopters were scooping water out of the Purgatory River late Thursday and dropping it on the fire burning the top of Ov Mesa.
Segin said six fast response, or Hot Shot, crews are being moved to the fire as well as a Type II Incident Management team consisting of 21 people who are experts in managing resources needed to fight a large fire.
The Hot Shots include the Alpine Hot Shots from Rocky Mountain National Park; the Craig Interagency Hot Shots from the Bureau of Land Management; and Hot Shot crews from the San Juan, Pike, and Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forests.
The fire is about 25 miles south of La Junta and is burning grass and Piñon-Juniper trees.
Segin said that the Army is using four helicopters to fight the fire.
There are 126 firefighters at the scene and two heavy air tankers flying from Rocky Mountain Airport in Jefferson County are fighting the fire.
Although no structures are currently being threatened, Segin said that many historical and prehistoric sites are located in the area where the fire is raging.
Segin said the most prominent of the historical sites in the area is the Rourke Ranch, which is on the National Historic Register. He said the fire is moving north toward the ranch.
He said the fire itself can alter prehistoric artifacts. But a more prevalent danger, he said, is that the fire will burn off vegetation and when monsoon rains come, the waters will create erosion that may damage or “deflate” the sites.
He said that the priorities of the firefighters now are to protect the Rourke Ranch and other historic and prehistoric sites, establish safety zones around the fire where firefighters can retreat to in case of emergency and create lines that the fire hopefully will not jump.
Segin said that in response to the growing fire danger in the Rocky Mountain region, the coordination center has increased the preparedness level.
The level is now at Preparedness Level II. That means, said Segin, that there are several areas within the region that are experiencing high to extreme fire danger. Wildland fire activity is increasing and large fires are occurring in one or more areas.
“There is moderate commitment of national resources with the potential to mobilize additional resources from other geographical areas,” he said.
The National Weather Service said that sustained winds of 20 mph or more with very low humidity. The winds are expected to continue to blow until about 8 p.m.
Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939 or [email protected]