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Pre-evacuations lifted due to Oak Ridge Fire in Pueblo County, Colorado
Pre-evacuations lifted due to Oak Ridge Fire in Pueblo County, Colorado

Pre-evacuations for residents near the Oak Ridge Fire northwest of Beulah were lifted Monday afternoon, and the fire was reported to be 69% contained Monday morning.

The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office said on social media site X on Monday that Sheriff David Lucero will end pre-evacuations for residents of Middle Creek Canyon Road, Vine Mesa, Cascade Avenue, Pine Avenue and Beulah Highlands Road at noon Monday.

“The pre-evacuation has been lifted due to progress made in firefighting efforts and continued improvements in fire containment,” PCSO officials wrote.

Meanwhile, officials with the Rocky Mountain Area Complex Incident Management Team 3, which is overseeing operations, reported Monday that the fire was 69% contained at 1,310 acres. From Saturday to Monday, the fire had spread to 117 acres.

This new level of containment was achieved after firefighters conducted strategic firing operations over the weekend, using drip flares and aerial ignitions to extend containment lines in hard-to-reach areas.

A drip flare is a wildland firefighting tool used to deliberately ignite fires by dropping burning fuel onto the ground. Aerial ignition involves dropping incendiary devices or materials from aircraft; in this case, plastic pellets that ignite approximately 30 seconds after hitting the ground.

“The strategic fire operation that has occurred … has extended back to Middle Creek,” fire officials wrote in their Monday update. “The containment line held throughout Sunday with no fire seen beyond the line. This area and much of the ground within the fire perimeter is a mosaic of burned and unburned fuel. In the coming days, as fire conditions allow, these pockets of unburned fuel may burn and smolder.”

Fire service operations restricted in the coming days

Monday’s update showed that the number of firefighters has dropped significantly, with 574 people currently helping with firefighting efforts, compared to more than 800 at the height of the fire. Fire officials noted that ongoing operations are currently “in transition.”

“The greatest efforts in the coming days will be focused on recovering equipment and repairing firefighting equipment,” fire officials wrote.

This return transport involves transporting equipment used to protect buildings back to the depot by vehicle or helicopter. There, the equipment is “cleaned and returned to the stockpile for the next fire.”

According to Monday’s update, fire repair work is also being carried out on containment lines, helipads and other locations where the landscape has been affected by firefighting operations.

“It is the responsibility of the emergency team to ensure that the areas affected by the fire-fighting measures are restored to their original condition or at least improved as far as possible,” wrote fire department representatives.

This work is being done in close coordination with consultants from the Pike-San Isabel National Forest. Successful completion of the work “will reduce the impacts of this fire on Beulah and the Middle Creek Watershed,” officials said.

“As the fire is increasingly being contained, additional emergency personnel are being withdrawn and sent home or to another operation,” said the update on Monday. The switch to a smaller emergency team is expected to take place on Tuesday evening.

Monday was also the last day that public information boards were available at Wetmore, San Isabel and Bishop Castle, but the board at the Beulah General Store is currently still available.

Public information about the fire remains available on Inciweb and on the Oak Ridge Fire 2024 Facebook page.

Looking back at the Oak Ridge Fire up to this point

The Oak Ridge Fire was caused by lightning strikes and was first reported on June 22 about 3 miles northwest of Beulah.

No deaths, injuries or property damage were reported as a result of the fire.

On June 24, evacuations were ordered for residents of Middle Creek Canyon Road, and the areas of Vine Mesa, Cascade Avenue, Pine Avenue and Beulah Highlands Road were placed into temporary evacuation status. The Middle Creek Canyon Road evacuation was lifted on July 2, and all temporary evacuations were lifted on Monday.

The San Carlos Ranger District of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests has issued an area, trail and road closure that went into effect on June 26. This order will remain in effect through July 26.

The Rocky Mountain Area Complex Incident Management Team 3 assumed control of the fire on June 26. A smaller incident team was scheduled to take over on Tuesday. Other agencies responding to the fire include Pueblo County and the Beulah Fire Protection and Ambulance District.

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Chieftain editor Zach Hillstrom can be reached at [email protected] or on X at @ZachHillstrom. Support local news, subscribe to the Pueblo Chieftain at subscribe.chieftain.com.

By Everly