Firefighters near control of hillside blaze off C-470

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Firefighters hope to completely contain a fire on a Dakota Ridge hillside by dark, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Wednesday.

“We feel very confident we are going to be at 100 percent contained by nightfall,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer,

When the day started, nearly 30 firefighters set out to battle the persistent blaze, which was 60 percent contained as the day broke across the steep brush and grass covered hillside. The fire had scorched about 110 acres, according to estimates.

The fire broke out about 2 p.m. Monday, sending flames racing up the slope immediately west of C-470 and about half a mile south of the Morrison Road exit.

By Wednesday afternoon, weary firefighters were watching the sky for signs of rain, hoping for relief from the afternoon heat and increasing humidity.

The steep, rocky slope of the ridge presented firefighters with the tough task of fighting a wind-driven fire as it raced through difficult terrain, forcing fire crews to walk and climb their way to the flames from a staging area off Morrison Road, more than a half-mile from the flames.

“It’s out there kind of in ‘no-man’s land’ and it’s a real slow process,” Techmeyer said. Because of loose rocks and soil, the crews “have to be real careful where they’re stepping,” he added.

During the initial hours of the fire, traffic backed up for miles after deputies closed the stretch of the major highway, and vehicles were stuck in a miles-long traffic jam that eventually stretched back to Interstate 70, backing up eastbound along that highway, as well.

Closing the busy highway allowed firefighting equipment to ferry water to the base of the slope, where it was off-loaded to feed fire hoses stretching up the hillside.

About 60 firefighters from West Metro Fire Rescue District, Inter-Canyon, Golden, Fairmont and Littleton fire departments battled the blaze for hours as it raced ahead of firefighters late Monday before rising humidity and a dose of rainfall gave fire crews a hand late in the evening.

West Metro crews monitored the fire through the night and were joined Tuesday morning by Department of Corrections fire crews from the Buena Vista correctional facility to continue fighting the blaze, which took off again as temperatures began to rise and humidity levels dropped.

The Colorado Forest Service was on-scene again Wednesday as firefighters pushed for full containment.

“The Colorado state Forest Service did an outstanding job giving these guys support with their engines,” Techmeyer said.

Despite the rugged terrain, there were no injuries among the fire crews, but West Metro paramedics also remained at the scene in case they are needed. No structures were in the path of the fire, although flames came within about 200 feet of a home when it first broke out Monday afternoon. But West Metro firefighters moved in to establish a perimeter around the house and kept the flames at bay, Techmeyer said.

Recent afternoon showers delivered by the monsoon season have dampened some fuels, but others, including the grasses on Dakota Ridge remain vulnerable.

“One of the things the firefighters said … is that (Monday) when they woke up they would never had bet that there was going to be a grass fire because the humidity was high,” said Micki Trost, West Metro spokeswoman.

“But when you look at those grasses, they’re knee-high and brown. That means they are all cured out, that they are really dry,” Trost added.

And the larger fuels, mostly pinion and junipers, haven’t been thoroughly dampened by the recent rain.

“Even though we’re getting short rainstorms everyday, it’s not enough to actually get moisture into them. We need some really long rainstorms,” Trost added.

The cause of the fire has not been pinpointed, but lightning and a cigarette tossed from a passing vehicle are among the prime suspects.

Trost said residents should not be lulled into carelessness because of the summer showers.

“ We always need to be careful and keep an eye on what’s around us, make sure that we are putting things where they need to be, so they are not causing fires out in the community,” Trost said.