Wind speeds Wednesday evening ended up being lower than expected in the area of a wildfire 10 miles south of Rifle, resulting in only minimal fire growth and no need for evacuation of homes.
At the same time, the cold front that blew into western Colorado has eased the threat posed by the Middle Mamm Fire, even bringing some high-elevation snow that appeared to extend down to the fire area Thursday morning. The fire grew only marginally Wednesday night and barely topped 1,000 acres in size Thursday morning.
The Garfield County Sheriff's Office said Thursday it had lifted a pre-evacuation order for residents in the southwestern Mamm Creek area. It had warned them Tuesday that they needed to be ready to leave their homes on short notice due to the potential for high winds Wednesday to quickly and dramatically boost the fire's size.
The fire started July 28 due to a lightning strike on national forest land. U.S. Forest Service officials decided to manage it rather than trying to extinguish it so that the fire could burn through remote, beetle-killed forest, reducing accumulated fuels and improving habitat and vegetation diversity. The fire grew slowly over time to little more than 300 acres before high winds last Friday pushed it across containment lines and caused it to grow quickly by hundreds of acres, reaching and threatening private property.
Crews worked hard this week to expand and reinforce containment lines, as aircraft dropped water and retardant to aid the firefighting effort where the fire threatened private land to the north. Wind Wednesday afternoon caused a spot fire on private land off the west side of the fire, but crews were able to build containment lines around it before it could spread.
Fire spokesperson Rita Baysinger said that while it became very windy at lower elevations Wednesday, there were reports that the windstorm "kind of slid over the top" of the fire area and left it fairly unscathed. She said that had the predicted high winds materialized, they could have made for a difficult night.
"Everybody's very pleased that there's no significant growth on the fire," she said.
The Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team, also known as Team Black, arrived Wednesday to take over management of the fire, replacing a Type 3 team. Baysinger said Type 2 teams have more personnel, resources and experience and are better able to manage more complex incidents. She said a large number of ranches and oil and gas facilities in the area have added to the complexity of fighting the Middle Mamm Fire.
But the weather change has worked in favor of firefighters. Increased humidity and cold temperatures were expected to result in minimal fire activity Thursday. Baysinger was waiting Thursday morning to hear back from crews regarding how much of the fire area may have received snow. She said the snow is welcome but can make footing tricky for firefighters.
More than 200 firefighters were working the blaze earlier this week but 142 were on the scene Thursday as conditions moderated.
Someone illegally flying an unauthorized drone in the area Tuesday forced the brief suspension of aircraft activity on the fire for safety reasons. Baysinger said she believes there's been no arrest in the incident but law enforcement continues to investigate it.
Closure orders currently apply to public lands in the area, and some county roads there are open only to local residents.