Hunters help contain Silverthorne wildfire
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SILVERTHORNE, Colo. ” A small wildfire that burned a hillside north of Silverthorne Tuesday was prevented from spreading into the forest because of the quick-thinking actions of a few local hunters.
Silverthorne resident Mike Usalavage was with friends at a hunting camp just north of Ute Pass Road when he began smelling smoke, and he looked up to see an orange glow in the sky.
“We got a call from my friend’s son that there was a fire burning on the hill,” Usalavage said. “When we got there, we saw sagebrush burning and three different trees on fire.”
With wind gust reaching up to 30 mph, the hunters feared the fire would spread into some nearby pine beetle-killed trees, and they quickly went to work containing the fire with nothing but a snow shovel and the rest of their available drinking water.
“We were running around like crazy trying to stomp out the fire where we could,” Usalavage said. “It was so windy, I thought for sure the fire was going to race up the hill, it was very scary.”
After calling 911, Usalavage received a call back from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Chief Jeff Berino, who assured the hunters that they were monitoring the fire from the road below, confident that the incoming weather would extinguish the flames.
According to Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue spokesman Brandon Williams, the location of the fire was almost impossible for fire crews to reach, and the decision to take a defensive approach was the most logical choice.
“We did know there were hunters up there, so we were in contact with them via cell phone,” Williams said. “We watched it for about three hours, and then the snow took care of the rest.”
Snow flurries throughout the night were able to quell the half-acre burn area, and Forest Service crews on Thursday visited to site to begin their investigation. No details have been released on the cause of the fire.
“There is a huge threat in this county that some day the forests will catch on fire,” Usalavage said. “I don’t know what the plan is for when that day comes but this situation almost turned into the forest fire we are all thinking about.”
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In the six weeks since Independence Pass has been open this season, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office already has received 15 reports of semi-trucks trying to or actually driving over the pass.