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September 23, 2020

Windborne Blaze at Lake Fork Ranch Results from Ditch Burning


Challenged by wind gusts which at times exceeded 35 mph, volunteers from Lake City Fire/Rescue and other area emergency agencies responded to a fast-moving brush and tree blaze at Lake Fork Ranch north of Lake City shortly before 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, May 13.
The blaze — the result of private citizens burning irrigation ditches on ranch meadows just north of Sparling Gulch — was reported out of control at 12:58 p.m. Saturday after spreading from meadow ditch into a grove of mature cottonwood trees.
On arrival, and continuing through cleanup seven hours later, at 7:58 p.m., firefighters battled a ground blaze extending to between three and four acres, including upwards of 40 cottonwood trees up to 40’ tall.
According to Fire Marshal Bill Hagendorf, some of the trees were merely burned about the base, while 30 or more were entirely engulfed from base up into the crown.
Hagendorf likens the trees to bright-burning “Roman Candles” in which flames spread upward from beneath the bark to reach the tree tops.
Winds burning from the south, at times more than 35 mph, made for extremely difficult conditions controlling the fire, according to Hagendorf, and especially battling trees which were entirely engulfed.
“Personnel on scene worked diligently to contain the fire,” he notes, “and were aided with the river on one side as a fire break.” Late in the afternoon the winds shifted to the west, allowing the fire to jump the across the Lake Fork River and requiring a crew to relocate to Highway 149 to successfully contain and stop the fire from spreading across the roadway.
Present to battle the fire were personnel from Lake City Fire/Rescue with two engines and a tanker. In addition to Fire Marshal Hagendorf, responding to the fire were Fire Chief Forest Gray, Deputy Chief Joe Wonnacott, Captain Darren Hardy and Firefighter Evan Milski.
Hinsdale County EMS responded in Medic 1 with Bruce Curry and Caroline Mitchell. Undersheriff Justin Casey represented Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office at the scene. Also responding was Hinsdale County Wildland Coordinator Rick Hernandez.
In addition to equipment and personnel responding to the fire, also aiding were Hinsdale County Road & Bridge Supervisor Monty Hannah, who provided two additional water tankers; county
R & B personnel Norm Ragle and Breck Thompson are credited for driving the county tankers, with appreciation also expressed to Greg Levine manning a backhoe used to open a critical road obstructed with downed trees.
Fire Marshal Hagendorf praises all local firefighters who took part in controlling the blaze. “They did an absolutely fantastic job,” he says, “working as a skilled team utilizing their training and equipment.” Each of the firefighters dropped their personal plans on a Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, and worked hard throughout the afternoon, he says.
Even after the fire was contained shortly before 8 p.m., cleanup, cleaning and servicing apparatus and equipment for response continued for an additional two-plus hours at the Henson Street fire station.
After clean-up, the last fire fighters left the station after 10:45 p.m. on Saturday.
“Without the dedication and professional expertise of these emergency responders, this incident could have turned into a major wildfire incident,” Fire Marshal Hagendorf notes.   

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