Jul 25, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterOfficials on Wednesday said the Fairfield Fire above Sinks Canyon was ignited by a lightning strike July 17.
The blaze reportedly started at about 8:40 p.m. that day midway up the south-facing slope of Fairfield Hill.
It wasn't reported until Monday, when a U.S. Forest Service employee saw the flames along the northern slope of the hill above Bruce's picnic area.
During a public meeting Wednesday, Rocky Mountain Fire Team 1 deputy incident commander Chuck Russell said investigator didn't find any signs of human activity at the fire's point of origin.
Russell said crews still are working to extinguish the blaze "as quickly as we can."
The area's containment line stretched from the near the Homestead Park subdivision northeast of the fire, around the eastern point of the flames on the north slope of Sinks Canyon, and down the southern edge of the fire along Sinks Canyon Road to near Bruce's picnic area.
Firefighters on Wednesday built fire lines around the northeastern, eastern and south eastern ends of the blaze and had it 47 percent contained by that evening, officials said.
The day before, crews had the fire 15 percent under control.
As they continue working, Clay Fowler,operations section chief with the Rocky Mountain Fire Team A, saidfour firefighting groups will build hand lines to rein in the head of the fire at its southwestern and western end.
"The plan tomorrow is to work aggressively to get this area buttoned up," Fowler said. "But it's fire fighting, it's all depending on the weather."
Officials hope to open Sinks Canyon Road by Friday and to open Homestead Park by Monday, officials said, emphasizing that plans could easily change depending on the fire.
A sprinkling of .05 inch of rain on Wednesday slowed the fire, Fowler said. It was just enough to raise the humidity and dampen the fire's spread into light fuels such as grasses.
About 1,555 acres were ablaze on Thursday morning, U.S. Forest Service fire information officer Carl Jungck said in an interview. Officials at the Wednesday meeting said a miscalculation earlier produced a larger estimate of 1,909 acres on Wednesday.
The arrival of six out-of-state crews pushed the number of personnel on the fire on Thursday up to 229, and one more group was still expected to join the fight. The number of fire fighters had dropped from 220 on Tuesday to 138 by Monday.
Though fire fighters have made progress corralling the Fairfield Fire, they are not out of the woods yet.
Officials are still concerned the fire could spread north from its western end and weather could drive it back east towards Homestead Park from a new angle.
"That potential is still there, and that's our biggest concern at this point," Fremont County Fire District chief Craig Haslam said at the meeting.
About 40 people attended the meeting Wednesday evening, and one man asked if the fire would be beneficial at all. Fire management officer Jay Slagowski said aspen trees grow well in burned areas, and other young shrubs that regrow are often palatable for animals. The danger is invasive cheat grass also grows well after wildfires.
A concern about damage to rock climbing areas in Sinks Canyon arose at the Wednesday meeting, as fires can weaken rock faces and make climbing dangerous.
As they fought the blaze, firefighters said they saw rocks falling off of cliffs on the south-facing slope of the canyon, Slagowski said. Not being a climber, however, he said he could not offer a good assessment of damage.
Some climbing areas were still surrounded by green vegetation, meaning the fire did not touch them, Shoshone National Forest spokeswoman Kristie Salzmann said.
Responding to a question, officials said the public cannot concretely help fight the blaze much. But they can volunteer as firefighters in the future.
Residents were encouraged to thank volunteer firefighters for their work, and to thank the firefighters' families and employers for supporting the volunteers.
Fowler said community support so far has been strong, and he has seen more public interest in Fremont County than he has in much larger communities suffering a wildfire.
Haslam said owners of homes on the edge of wild lands can contact Fremont County Firewise for information on making their property safer from wildfires.
Information on the program is available at www.fremontcountyfirewise.com or by calling 857-3030.
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