Cause of Silt blaze still unknown

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Firefighters work on a fire on Silt Mesa that burned more than 15 acres Sunday. Investigators have been unable to determine the cause of the blaze. (Courtesy Ira S. Jaffrey)

SILT MESA – Investigators have been unable to determine what caused a wildfire that burned more than 15 acres outside of Silt on Sunday evening.

The fire apparently was started at numerous places along Harvey Gap Road.

“There were a bunch of different spots and there are any number of scenarios that you could make up that could explain that kind of fire-start behavior,” said Brit McLin, chief of the Burning Mountains Fire Department.

The fire was reported to authorities at 6:13 p.m. About 15 acres were burned in the main body of the fire, and a total of approximately one acre burned in four smaller spots to the north. The fire was entirely contained by Monday.

Three vehicles were burned in the blaze. It also threatened some nearby structures, but none were lost, and no injuries were reported.

Some homes in the area lost phone service Sunday but McLin didn’t know if that was related to the fire. Qwest could not be reached for comment Monday.

McLin said numerous things could have caused the multiple ignition points of the fire, from someone tossing matches or waving a Roman candle from a passing car, to sparks being thrown from a vehicle with a flat trailer tire or a dragging trailer chain.

Dr. Ira Jaffrey was at his son’s residence for his grandchild’s birthday party Sunday evening in the area of the wildfire.

“It was by the grace of God that there were no serious injuries or deaths,” he said.

He said seven fires began simultaneously, and he thinks they were intentionally set.

“I felt that children’s lives were put in danger, and this was not an act of God,” he said.

McLin said that while arson is a possibility, investigators found no evidence to back that up. He also noted that area residents didn’t see anything suspicious at the time of the fire.

“The trained, professional investigators are listing it as undetermined because there isn’t enough evidence pointing toward anything,” he said.

McLin credits a rapid response by local residents for helping control the fire.

Jaffrey’s son, Marc, volunteers with the Burning Mountains Fire Department. A lot of Marc Jaffrey’s friends who were at the party Sunday work as firefighters, police and emergency service providers. They had gear available in their vehicles and were able to respond to the fire, Ira Jaffrey said.

The Rifle Fire Department and Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit also responded to the fire, while a helicopter provided continuing water drops and a single-engine air tanker spread a load of retardant near a particularly threatened home.

Although several homes had been in danger, the design of roadways and irrigation of surrounding fields and landscaping greatly reduced the threat posed by the fire, McLin said.