Buffalo Creek Fire

AddressPike National Forest, from Wellington Lake to the S. Platte River (unincorporated Jefferson County).
QuadPine, 1985.
SectionS6, T8S, R70W
SourceInterview, Curt Russell, Fire Chief, North Fork Volunteer Fire Department, June 1996
Initialdate1996-07-30 00:00:00-06
Latestdate2012-11-28 00:00:00-07
HistoryOn Saturday, May 18, 1996 at 1:30 p.m. a campfire smoldered, unattended, close to Wellington Lake in Pike National Forest near the Buffalo Creek. Winds increased and flames took off, gathering momentum as the dry forest burned. By nightfall, a path of the inferno had consumed many acres and was continuing its course. All residents of the Buffalo Creek community and of Spring Creek were evacuated, and electricity was cut off. The North Fork Fire District Volunteers acted immediately; soon, firefighters and equipment arrived from many Jefferson County fire departments. Sunday brought help from surrounding states; the Secretary of Agriculture arrived from Washington, D.C.; helicopters assembled to dip buckets over and over again from the North Fork of the South Platte River after having flown low over the spreading flames. Slurry planes followed. The path of the fire was spread rapidly by the high winds heading toward County Highway 126, which was eventually crossed, threatening homes in Spring Creek and the Long Scraggy Camp. The Top of the World Campground was consumed, burning several cars. A command post had been set up at the North Fork Fire District Firehouse #1 on Highway 126 at the Buffalo Creek. The U.S. Forest Service assembled at the Meadows Group Campground, five miles up the creek, with canteens, sleeping arrangements and necessary equipment. The J.W. Green Mercantile Co. at Buffalo Creek community became the central information center for local residents, who were allowed into their homes only temporarily, and for the media, represented by television, radio, and newspapers. Sunday coverage was broadcast across the U.S.A. and soon telephone lines were busy making contact with year-round and summer residents, who were allowed to return to their homes on Monday. A Red Cross shelter had been opened at the Elk Creek Elementary School on Highway 285, and one was set up near Deckers at a "Y" camp staffed by The Salvation Army. The fourth day, Tuesday, it was reported the fire had covered ten miles with a two-mile width and burned over 10,000 acres of forest, destroying 18 homes or other structures. By Thursday, it was 40% contained and by the weekend it was 100% under control, with crews continuing to extinguish hot-spots.