Firefighters, Helicopters Make Progress on Sunrise Mine Fire
by Kati O'Hare
May 31, 2012 | 1505 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTROSE COUNTY – After burning more than 6,000 acres in Montrose County's West End, responders are "cautiously optimistic" that the Sunrise Mine Fire could be contained shortly.

"Right now it's not doing a whole lot. It is 48 percent contained and not growing much," said Great Basin Incident Management Team Public Information Officer David Eaker, early Wednesday. "We are holding our breath a little bit and will hit it hard the next few days before the weekend to get it secured, so if those things [winds and lightning] do come about, the fire will continue to hold."

The Great Basin Incident Management Team is part of the Rocky Basin team that took over the fire management from local officials on May 27.

The Sunrise Mine Fire started Friday, May 25, around 5 p.m., on Bureau of Land Management lands about four miles north of Paradox. The fire continues to burn on both public lands, now including areas within the Manti La Sal National Forest, and private lands near Buckeye Reservoir and southwest of Gateway.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but 50-to 60-mile per hour winds drove the flames to consume most of the acreage in the first few days, Eaker said.

"When winds are going that high, there is not much you can do, no matter how much manpower you throw at it," he said.

More than a dozen crews of hotshots and firefighters – approximately 552 personnel – including five engines, seven water tenders and four helicopters, were fighting the blazes from both ground and air, according to information released on May 30.

So far, the estimated cost of the fire – mostly due to the aircraft – is at $1.2 million, Eaker said.

Roc Creek is the main canyon that bisects the fire. The canyon's rugged and dangerous terrain has forced the team to break the fire into two branches, and fight from both the south and north ends.

"We never want to put firefighters in a position where they could become trapped if the fire took off," he said.

Because of this disconnection, outlying camps have been set up so firefighters can more easily and quickly return to fighting the blazes each morning.

Aircraft have made a huge difference in the containment efforts because of the remote, hard-to-reach areas, Eaker said.

As part of the effort, crews were evaluating and preparing structure protection for several cabins northwest of Buckeye Reservoir near the old landing strip, according to a May 29 press release.

To date, there has been no damage to any of the 15 outbuildings and other structures within the area, Eaker said. Several ranches also are in the vicinity; their owners have not been evacuated.

"There is no immediate threat to any of them," Eaker said. "The first day, people were asked to be ready to leave but there have been no forced evacuations [from those ranches]."

The area, including Buckeye Reservoir Road, R 1 Road and John Brown Road, is closed to public access for public and firefighter safety, according to the management team. Closures are also in effect for Carpenter and Sinbad ridges in Colorado, and Utah’s Buckeye Basin, including the Buckeye Campground, and for all Manti La Sal lands in Colorado north of Willow Basin Creek/Buckeye Creek, including forest roads 54135, 50377, 50371, 50378, 54150, 54755, 54145, 50373,50358, 54755, 54148, 54132 and forest trail 50965.

"People need to be aware how dry things are out there, and if they are out doing anything that could cause a fire, to be very cautious about that, because if they get any wind behind it, they could end up with a fire like this," Eaker said. "People really need to know and be aware of the conditions – or it's going to be a very long season."

Kati O'Hare at kohare@watchnewspapers.com
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