Campfire likely cause of wildfire near Meeker
An abandoned campfire has been blamed for a wildfire north of New Castle that has burned more than 200 acres.
The Middle Elk Fire started Thursday in the Hiner Spring area and forced the evacuation of the popular Meadow Lake campground and the closure of some forest roads in that area. The main north-south forest road from New Castle to Buford remains open but could be closed at any time due to fire spread or the need for burnout operations to help control the fire, White River National Forest spokesman Bill Kight said.
The fire had reached about 225 acres by late afternoon Monday.
Kight said the fire began Thursday in what’s called a dispersed campsite rather than an official campground.
“We’re asking if anybody has information on any suspicious activities or people leaving the area in a hurry on Thursday, to please call and let us know,” he said.
Kight may be reached at 970-948-1894.
He said the fire is a reminder of the continued fire danger in the high country and the need to make sure to completely extinguish all campfires.
“We had six of those abandoned campfires over the weekend, if you can believe it,” he said.
One of them would have caused another wildfire if firefighters hadn’t put it out, he said.
The cost of fighting the Middle Elk Fire was likely to reach $200,000 by the end of the day Monday and the person who started it will be held liable if caught, Kight said.
The fire has been burning in rough terrain in thick conifer and aspen forest. Over the weekend it caused multiple spot fires in advance of the fire front, making for dangerous conditions for firefighters and contributing to the need for road closures and the campground evacuation. The site had received minimal rainfall as of late Monday afternoon.
Two inmate fire crews from the Rifle Correctional Center and a Bureau of Indian Affairs crew were among those fighting the fire Monday, along with one helicopter.
The fire occurred as hunting and fall colors have been helping draw people to the high country. A big game archery hunting season ended Sunday, and a muzzleloading season finished a week earlier. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s first big-game rifle season doesn’t start until Oct. 13 and Kight said the Forest Service would be working with that agency before then to try to help spread the word about this year’s lingering fire danger.