Wildfire disaster averted on Dakota Hill

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Coordinated firefighting effort pays off

By Lynn Volkens

Gilpin County escaped potential wildfire disaster last week, thanks to the work of firefighters and several other factors that fell into place at the time. The Dakota Hill fire, located on National Forest land, about four miles west of mile marker 10.5 on Highway 119, was discovered the evening of June 24, 2013, when an unnamed citizen called in a smoke sighting shortly after 6 p.m. According to the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were first on the scene. Personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and Timberline, Central City, Black Hawk and Nederland fire departments responded. Timberline fire chief, Chris Jennings reckoned there were at least 15 various fire trucks and 40 firefighters on scene within the first half hour. He said there was a good line of vision to the fire from Timberline’s Station 2 (448 Pine Drive) so a joint command base was set up there with a unified command consisting of personnel from the Forest Service, Gilpin Sheriff’s Office and Timberline Fire Protection District to coordinate firefighting efforts.

According to Elsha Kirby, spokesperson for the U.S.F.S. Boulder Ranger District, the size of the fire was less than 1/10th of an acre and firefighters were able to keep it from growing. The Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office “tweeted” that remoteness and terrain helped keep the fire from spreading. Kirby noted that the area contained primarily lodgepole pine trees, but there was no indication of major pine beetle infestation or damage. Blowing at 8-12 miles per hour, winds were relatively calm. The remote area and rough terrain prevented the fire from being accessed with fire trucks, but a Forest Service helicopter was available that day. Using the large field across Highway 119 from Roy’s Last Shot, and Snowline Lake as a bucket refill source, the helicopter made three water drops on the fire, significantly dropping the heat and enabling firefighters to approach. A Type II Initial Attack crew of 20 firefighters from South Dakota happened to be in the area and available to help. Kirby said it was just the luck of the draw, considering that firefighting resources are currently limited, that the Black Hills Type II crew had been previously staged and was ready to go. A Type II Initial Attack team is deployed ahead of firefighters to assess the situation and scratch out a fire line, if possible, prior to additional hand crews coming in. Once the Type II team arrived, they were taken as close to the fire as possible via pick-up truck, and then hiked the remaining distance to the fire. The team camped at the scene overnight, assessed the fire, and then met with local authorities the morning of June 25th to advise next steps – controlling the fire by hand -digging a fire line to prevent further spread. By 3 p.m. the Dakota Hill fire was considered contained and controlled. “We’re not calling it out,” Kirby said Monday, June 29th, as the area continues to be monitored just in case wind or weather conditions stir a spark – “But there’s been no heat detected there for several days,” she added.

Because of the remote location, no structures were ever in danger, nor was there ever a need to order any evacuations. The Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office radio communications tower located on Dakota Hill, also was not in danger. The cause of the fire is being investigated by the Forest Service. Kirby said that a human cause had not been ruled out.

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