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Smoldering ground causes alarm in Black Forest

By: name Newspaper
June 22, 2013 Updated: June 22, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Five hours after the devastated Black Forest fire burn zone re-opened entirely, a fire was reported at the intersection where the first home burned 12 days ago.

Officers responded to a small fire at the intersection of Peregrine Way and Shoup Road at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, said Lt. Jeff Kramer, a spokesman with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

A caller reported seeing smoke at 1:22 p.m. A short time later, another caller reported seeing flames, he said.

The fire was "contained and taken care of" just before 2 p.m., he said.

He referred to the fire as "a pretty small event."

The area is in the southwest corner of the burn zone, where the Black Forest fire originated last week before moving east, consuming 509 homes and killing two people.

As of 3 p.m., the Black Forest Fire/Rescue has responded to six reports of smoke since 6:30 a.m., said Kathy Russell, spokeswoman for the fire department.

All incidences have been minor, she said.

Still, she encouraged citizens in the area to call if they see smoke.

"Yes, we're busy, but it's important," she said. "We need to make sure these are knocked out. Just because smoke showing is a normal part of the post-fire mop-up phase, we don't want anybody to think they shouldn't report smoke if they see it. It could be tragic."

A matted layer of pine needles and grass on the forest floor - referred to as "duff" by firefighters - can allow a fire to smolder "very effectively," Russell said.

At night, when temperatures are cooler and humidity is higher, smoldering spots are tough to detect. They tend to become more visible when temperatures warm, humidity drops and wind picks up, supplying the smolder with more oxygen..

"There have been cases where a fire has smoldered under snow for months, which is very depressing to fire crews," she said. "Fires are persistent. You really have to go in and dig them out by the roots."

Just because the Black Forest fire is contained doesn't mean that there aren't - and won't continue to be - warm spots for quite awhile, she said. Putting them all out "is going to be a long process," she said.

The Colorado State Motor Vehicle system failed Saturday morning and left the state's only weekend office unable to provide its usual services.

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office North Branch location, 8830 North Union Blvd. in Colorado Springs, was unable to provide new vehicle registrations, renewals or title work the rest of the day.

"El Paso County is the only county in the state to have an office open on Saturdays, and we understand that many hard-working people throughout the state rely on that convenience," County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams said in a news release. "We apologize for the limited services we can offer today and hope that the state is able to quickly address the issue."

The office was still be able to address drivers licenses, recording and elections.

The county said that full operations are expected to resume Monday.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department announced that whitewater rafting would resume through Royal Gorge on Saturday.

A 10-mile segment of the Arkansas River through the gorge had been closed because of the fire that raged on both sides of the river, destroying many of the buildings that comprised the famed tourist destination. The fire also destroyed a tram used to ferry passengers up and down alongside the canyon walls, and the heavy cables used for the tram had fallen into the gorge.

The cables created a hazard for rafters and kayakers, but they have been removed, the state agency reported.

"Alpine Cable & Construction, Inc., the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, Rock & Rail Railroad and river rangers from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area completed mediation measures Friday when they removed six cables that had fallen into the Arkansas River," said a statement released by state officials.

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