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1,156-acre Oak Ridge fire on land for the first time in over 100 years

The Oak Ridge fire, raging across more than 1,100 U.S. Forest Service acres in Pueblo County, is the first on that stretch of land in more than 100 years, forest officials said Saturday.

“As a result, the area between the Junkens Fire burn scar to the north and the Mason Gulch Fire burn scar to the south has become overgrown and denser,” forest officials said in an update Saturday. “If fuels are not reduced, the question is not if fires will occur, but when.”

As of Saturday morning, the Oak Ridge Fire was burning on 1,156 acres of land in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest and was still 0% contained. That’s the size of 876 football fields and still growing.

The flames have spread overnight from the 454-hectare burn area burned on Friday to nearly 20 hectares and are not expected to die down anytime soon.

Although the Oak Ridge Fire has spread more slowly than other wildfires in Colorado, firefighters expect the blaze will not be under control for nearly a month. The fire is expected to be under control by July 24.

Containment does not mean the end of the flames – it is the state of a control line around the fire that can be expected to stop the fire from spreading. A wildfire can continue to burn for days or weeks after it has been fully contained.

The land north, west and south of the fire is mostly steep and rugged, making it difficult for firefighters to reach the flames. In the event of a fire spreading or an accident, it will take longer for emergency crews to get to safety, officials said in an update Saturday.

More than 445 firefighters worked Saturday on the next line of defense: building indirect firebreaks, forest officials said.

Indirect fire lines use natural features such as grassy and rocky areas, trails and roads to contain the fire and deprive the flames of fuel to prevent further spread.

“We are making significant progress in implementing the overall strategic plan to contain the fire by working directly and indirectly on the perimeter of the fire,” fire officials said in an update at 1:45 p.m. “All air units are deployed and continue to coordinate with ground resources at fire hot spots.”

The Oak Ridge fire is being fed by downed trees, grass and 2-foot-tall brush — shrubs, bushes or small trees that grow in a forest under large trees — fire officials said. By removing as much of that fuel as possible, firefighters will have a better chance of keeping the fire away from Beulah and other surrounding communities.

On Thursday, crews completed a fire line on the east side of the fire near Beulah, officials said. On Friday, they worked to reinforce the containment line and proactively burned some areas between the eastern perimeter and the edge of the fire.

By burning those areas, firefighters were able to create and deploy containment lines in terrain that is easier to navigate and offers less fuel for the fire, forest service officials said, increasing the likelihood that the lines will hold.

The wildfire was sparked by lightning strikes during last week’s thunderstorms and was first reported on June 22 three miles northwest of Beulah.

The flames spread slowly over the weekend, but on Monday they expanded from a small 2.2-hectare fire to over 115 acres in less than six hours.

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