Cause of Leadville Treasure fire ‘inconclusive’
July 7, 2012
LEADVILLE, Colo. – The 420-acre Treasure fire near Leadville was human-triggered, but the specific cause can’t be determined, officials said Friday.
One possible source of ignition could be a scenic train that runs near Leadville, the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad. Talk of the line’s possible involvement in the blaze has circulated since the fire started.
The railroad was shut down soon after the Treasure fire started. Though it is running again now, U.S. Forest Service officials would not comment on whether the train might have been involved in igniting the blaze.
“It’s inconclusive,” Leadville District Ranger Jon Morrissey said when asked whether the railroad might have been the trigger point, adding that special agents from Montana were called down to investigate the origins of the fire.
“It was very dry and we had firefighters above the train tracks,” Morissey said. “We closed them down just in case there was any correlation between the fire and the train.”
Morissey also noted there was a public safety risk.
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Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad is co-owned by Ken Olsen, a former Lake County commissioner.
Representatives of the railroad confirmed a train was in the area of the fire when it started and that passengers and crew had to be evacuated, but did not comment on the investigation.
The rail line was allowed to reopen as of July 4.
It’s not uncommon for trains to ignite wildland fires, local experts say.
“You’ve got metal wheels on a metal track,” Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief and fire investigator Jeff Berino said. “Metal on metal, that makes sparks. The brakes from trains make sparks. Also the engines, they use diesel and/or steam and/or coal and kick out carbon residue. Railroads are often the cause of wildland fires.”
Investigators did determine the blaze was human-triggered.
If a responsible party is determined for a human-caused fire on U.S. Forest Service land, it is common practice for the federal government to ask the responsible entity to pay for the cost of fighting the fire.
The blaze, which is now 100 percent contained, broke out Saturday, June 23 close to Bird’s Eye Creek in Lake County, approximately 10 miles southwest of Quandary Peak.
The blaze exploded from 4 acres to just over 300 the first day, burning entirely above 10,000 feet and in some areas as high as 12,000 feet. It stopped growing fairly quickly however, and firefighting teams were able to contain the blaze doing burn outs and putting down fire lines.
No structures were threatened and no evacuations were ordered.
The accumulation of pine needles and debris under spruce trees in the fire’s path also made the work of digging out fire lines time consuming, while the altitude made firefighting difficult for teams, some from sea level, carrying heavy equipment.