Weber Fire now in mop-up stage

Federal team transfers command back to local organization

Keywords: Poll question,
The hillside behind a house in Weber Canyon is barren after the fire. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

The hillside behind a house in Weber Canyon is barren after the fire.

Working with a target date of Thursday, July 5, for full containment, Weber Fire officials are in the mop-up stage of the 10,133-acre blaze.

The fire was sparked around 4:15 p.m. on Friday, June, 22 and spread quickly, driven by hot temperatures, unrelenting winds and dry fuels. Over the course of 10 days, 140 homes were placed under mandatory evacuation orders and 390 others were given a pre-evacuation notice. All evacuation orders were lifted Monday morning.

After an initial assault by local firefighters, a federal incident management team was called in to manage the local fire. Now that the fire is at 75 percent containment and officials are nearing full control, the federal Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C has transferred command of the fire back to a Type 3 organization.

The transfer of management to the Type 3 organization is the natural result of the fire coming under control of the firefighting techniques employed over the past 10 days. Type 2 teams are pulled back from fires once the blaze reaches a point where local management teams can assume control.

“As the fire gets into its later stages, the complexity of managing that fire really goes down,” said Eric La Price, public information officer with the Type 2 team. La Price will stay on to assist the Type 3 organization.

Resource demands at other incidents around the country and financial considerations are also part of the equation when transferring from a federal team back to local control, La Price said.

“No. 1, it saves on the overall cost of the fire,” he said. “The Type 3 organization costs less than the Type 2 team. The transfer also frees up the Type 2 team to respond to more complex fires and incidents that may occur.”

Total cost-to-date of the Weber Fire is estimated at $3.2 million, according to the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized use of federal funds to aid with firefighting costs. Funding is available to cover 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.

Two days of successful burnouts concluded on Saturday, an effort to increase containment and control of the fire, moving the Weber Fire into the mop-up and patrol stage. Additional burnouts are not planned, according to a news release from the Bureau of Land Management.

The burnouts produced significant smoke in the region, as fires were lit to consume excessive fuels in danger of feeding the fire. Part of the firefighting technique during the burnouts was an “aerial ignition” operation. This stage of the fire fight incorporated dropping small ping-pong ball sized fire-starting spheres from helicopters to help the fire burn strategically and slowly downhill into drainages. Using aerial ignition helps protect firefighter safety in steep terrain, the news release said.

La Price said Monday crews were working to stamp out hot spots on the northeast and southern edges of the fire.

“The two areas they are concentrating on are areas that still have heat in them,” he said. “Some of that is the result of the burnout operations. They are mopping up in deep canyons that were difficult to get to. The rest is looking pretty good. There are some hot spots showing up here and there on the infrared flights, but those are mostly stumps and rocks that are retaining heat.”

The federal Type 2 team took over the blaze on Sunday, June 24. Federal firefighting teams are only assigned to a singular fire for a maximum of 14 days. The Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C was on the Weber Fire for a total of nine days.

La Price said the success of the Type 2 team is evident in the fact that additional federal teams were not needed to control the Weber blaze.

“The Type 2 team came in and was able to handle this fire,” he said. “They didn’t have to transfer up to a Type 1 team. They accomplished exactly what they came to do and everything went according to plan.”

The Type 3 team took over the blaze at 6 p.m. Monday evening. The work now by firefighters is to continue efforts to ensure the fire remains within the established perimeter by strengthening the existing line. Residents and visitors should expect to see intermittent smoke as mop up continues.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, the Bureau of Land Management and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office announced in a joint press release on Thursday that a juvenile has been identified as the potential suspect in the case. No other details were made available by either of the investigating agencies.

“There is not any more information right now and there won’t be for a while due to the nature of the investigation,” Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said in a phone interview on Thursday. “It’s a highly sensitive thing. That’s all I’ve got right now, and it may be a while before there is anything else.”

No injuries have been reported due to the fire. Structure damage has been limited to one outbuilding that was destroyed.

Reach Kimberly Benedict at kimberlyb@cortezjournal.com.