Two Elk Fire UnparalleLed response

Summer 2018 has been extraordinarily dry. During a stage 2 fire restriction period, no smoking was permitted outside, no campfires and even no fireworks on the Fourth of July!

In spite of all the heightened awareness, human-caused wildland fires repeatedly happen.

On Saturday, September 29th, just as I was exiting the highway to catch up at work, I noticed a plume of smoke ahead rising over the far end of Minturn. This one sure seemed too close to where our 3-story maroon southwestern-styled office building is located.

The Two Elk Fire started in grasses and shrubs and then made a wind-driven run up along the side of the ridge to the east of the shooting range. The fire started burning in sage, grass, and mixed conifer with some an occasional single-tree torching up. Erratic winds did not make it any easier.

Several other regional human-caused forest fires have torched thousands of acres in Colorado. Glimpses of a black and barren facade from our deck struck me hard even before anything happened.

Thank goodness the flashes of fear dimmed immediately when I heard several blaring signals of emergency responders rushing to the scene. Within a short time frame, a coordinated effort by Interagency engines, air resources, and crews responded swiftly to a fire burning adjacent to the Minturn Shooting Range/Two Elk Shooting Area. Smoke was visible from eastbound I-70 Highway and Highway 24.

Two Elk Fire at its initial stage
Topography at the source of the fire includes sage, grass, mountain shrub and mixed conifer
Unpredictable wind manuvering south and upward
Smaller trees along the shrubs quickly take the toll

The blaze was burning in very steep terrain beneath multiple rock outcroppings. Safe access to tackle the fire in these areas were only possible utilizing air power with water bucket drop and fire retardant.

Reconnaissance flight
Ready Aim Drop!
Bucket full of effort

A Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), These aircraft are AT-802F models and have Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F engines with an added performance component that affords them to carry 800 gallons of retardant.

SEAT dropping retardant
Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) used retardant to contain the fire spread.
The aerial firefighter
These small planes can load and operate where larger tankers can’t access
SEAT - fast to dispatch and best way to keep small fires from becoming big
Cruising away for yet another refill

SEAT dropped retardant on the south side of the fire to check fire spread.
Till the next refill
A view of relief
Flying in low visibility
Up and down to fetch water
The gift of water thankfully was available at a nearby pond behind our building in Minturn
Innovative Fire-fighting Bambi Bucket
Taking turns to fill up
The Bambi bucket is a specialized water capturing bucket suspended on a cable carried by a helicopter to deliver water for aerial firefighting. The bucket has a release valve on the bottom which is controlled by the helicopter.

Hi-Key Heli

A peek view from between tree and bushes
Sikorsky Skycrane Helitanker

The Skycrane Helitanker water tanks can hold up to 2,600 gallons (9,750 liters) of water and can quickly be refilled within 45 seconds in as little as 18 inches of water.

Helicopter Transport Services (HTS) provided outstanding work with their CH-54B Helitanker
The highly productive firefighting ‘Insect’
Spreading water to put out any remaining hot spots.

Ground crews established hand line and hose line on the lower/western edge of the fire as well as up the southern and northern flanks of the fire.

Flame vs ground crew size ratio

On day two the Hotshot crew focused their suppression actions in some of the more technical terrains on the flanks of the fire working their way up the top of Cougar Ridge. Additional ground crews focused on holding, securing, and mopping-up hand line already in place from the previous day’s efforts.

One of the two helicopters conducting multiple water bucket drops throughout the afternoon to check fire growth.
Dousing it down

This fire could have easily spread all of Gilman, Redcliff, beyond Minturn and Vail if not for the outstanding work by the Wildfire Responders.

With coordinated response, remarkable air power, and a tenacious ground crew, the Two Elk Fire remained at 26.5 acres without any loss of lives, damage to structures or infrastructure on the second and final day of this unparalleled response.


Photos were taken by Raj Manickam from the deck roof of SteamMaster’s Corporate 3-story office building at 1901 Main Street, in Minturn. Some photos were taken behind the building where water was collected at a nearby pond.

Note from District Ranger

“Thanks to swift response by local cooperators and interagency firefighters, the Two Elk Fire is expected to be at 100% containment by this afternoon,” said Rick Truex, acting District Ranger. “We would like to thank the local community and our partners for all of their support over the weekend.”

Special thanks to Eagle River Fire Protection District, Eagle County Sheriff, Vail Fire and Emergency Services, Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District, Gypsum Fire Protection District, Eagle County Paramedics, Summit Fire Authority, Aspen Fire Protection District, Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District, Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District, Vail Resorts, Town of Minturn, and Town of Vail for support throughout the response.

Note: Source from USDA - Forest Service | Vail Daily | Eagle River Fire Protection District

Created By
Raj Manickam


©️Raj Manickam Source: USDA Forest Service Vail Daily Eagle River Fire Protection District