The Saratoga Sun -

Snake fire rattles responders

New Sierra Madre Mountains fire starts small, expands like a gorging python to over 2,600 acres by Tuesday morning


Photo courtesy of Tim Downham, U.S. Forest Service

The Snake Fire erupted into activity Sunday, growing from 200 acres to over 2,000 acres in an afternoon, unnerving officials

With high winds and low humidity over the weekend a third wildfire was discovered burning in Carbon County Sept. 10. Given the intensity of the new blaze, and its distance from the Walden, Colo. incident command post (ICP) combating the Broadway and Beaver Creek Fires, Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Aaron Voos said there has been discussion of establishing a separate ICP in Encampment. That ICP would manage the new fire as well as the Broadway blaze.

The Snake Fire, as it has been christened, is located by Forest Service Road 851.1F in the Sierra Madre Mountains, five miles southeast of the Battle Creek Campground and two miles north of the state line. Thus far, the blaze has been characterized by exponential eastward growth, and officials have been scrambling to keep it in check. Volunteer firefighters from Encampment and Baggs responded at the outset Saturday, with Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management responders eventually joining in.

Estimated at 30 acres initially, conditions helped the blaze spread rapidly eastward and by Sunday morning those estimates had jumped to 200 acres, a Forest Service bulletin stated. Despite three helicopters, three engines and a crew of 50 working to suppress the flames, the fire continued to expand at an alarming rate on Sunday, and by that evening the burned acreage was estimated at over 2,000 acres. As of Tuesday, estimates were over 2,600 acres, pending an infrared flight to confirm.

"To say yesterday was a wild day is a pretty significant understatement," Voos said Monday. Also contacted on Monday, Public Information Officer Bruce Palmer said "the weather today is not nearly as extreme as it was yesterday," and that officials expected Monday's more favorable conditions to check growth of the Snake.

As the fire metastasized Sunday with the help of 50 mph wind gusts, the forest service and other responding agencies burst into action. Voos said police officers, volunteer firefighters, game wardens, fire wardens, county workers and even biologists for Wyoming Game and Fish were dispatched to the area to warn hunters, campers and hikers of the encroaching danger.

The lands are a popular hunting spot, and Voos said informing people involved a lot of legwork and "just going road by road," trying to find people. "(Responders) just make as many contacts as possible," and rely on word-of-mouth, Voos explained. "A lot of times that just involves leaving notes on cars parked at trailheads," he said of the methods employed. "As far as we know, everyone in the immediate vicinity of the fire has been contacted," Voos said, though he declined to hazard an estimate of how many people had been warned.

Voos said the fire remains largely on National Forest land, but that several sections of private lands have been burned as well. Several structures, notably ranch buildings to the east of the fire perimeter, are considered at risk and are undergoing defensive preparations, Voos said. On Monday, an official closure notice was released by the Forest Service closing some area roads and trails.

The newest fire joined the Beaver Creek and Broadway fires in contributing to weekend haze in many parts of the Valley and beyond. The bulletin said the Snake differs from these fires in the fuel feeding its flames. The Snake Fire is burning mixed conifer and aspen trees, as opposed to the heavy, beetle-killed timber feeding Broadway and Beaver Creek.

The cause of the fire is unknown and is under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call U.S. Forest Service Officer Hannah Nadeau at 307-343-2335.


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