Incline Fire, set by transient, points up mountainside blaze danger

       The Incline Fire, which was visible throughout the Westside Sept. 28-29, was contained with a combination of manpower, strategy and a little bit of luck, according to an interview with Manitou Springs Fire Chief Keith Buckmiller.
       The 27-acre fire was contained to a wooded area north of the Incline, starting inside Manitou city limits (mountainside land owned by the Cog Railway) and spreading onto National Forest land. No one was injured and no structures were endangered.
       He added that investigators have found the fire's point of origin - at the camp of an apparent “squatter” on the mountainside above Manitou. The cause was either his poorly tended campfire or a discarded cigarette butt, Buckmiller said. He does not believe the fire was set intentionally.
       A TV news crew shot a video that showed a man “acting suspiciously,” then departing before authorities could talk to him, Buckmiller said.
       The man would be one of uncounted numbers of people who live/camp in the nearby mountains. Asked if this raises a fire-safety concern, Buckmiller said it does, although he did not want to overstate the problem. “It's no more of a threat than the campfires people set at state parks like Mueller or the Crags,” he said, then observed that “those campgrounds have organized fire rings. People in the squatting camps don't make good rings or pits or use good means to extinguish their fires, and there is also an accumulation of trash.”
       A big concern for the Manitou chief is how easily the mountainside vegetation might burn, once a fire starts. Many tree stands have been decimated by beetle kill, and the living growth is drier right now than fire professionals would like.
       He urged that people use caution when working with an open fire, but feared that any lessons from the Incline Fire's near-disaster will quickly be forgotten as people move on with their lives. “Even two weeks after the Hayman fire, people were forgetting,” he said.
       The Incline Fire was mostly in an “inaccessible” area, but fire crews were able to create perimeters on the sides, and repeated water dumps from helicopter contractors slowed, and eventually stopped, the fire's march up the mountainside, Buckmiller explained. The good fortune was that the fire's direction took it to slopes with lighter growth. If it had gone a different way, “it could have gotten into bigger timber,” and thus developed more force, he said.
       In all, more than 100 people from various area firefighting and support entities joined the attack. Fire contingents came from Manitou's volunteer department, Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service, El Paso County Sheriff's, Westcott, Palmer Lake and even a team of convicts trained to fight conflagrations.
       “It was a well-done job,” Buckmiller said. “A lot of people did some good work.”

Westside Pioneer article