OURAY – County officials and U.S. Forest Service investigators are working to determine the cause of a structural fire which erupted in an outbuilding at the Camp Bird Mine on Sunday evening, June 23, and quickly spread to the surrounding forest before being contained in a rapid and aggressive multiagency response.
Nobody was injured in the blaze; the majority of the mine’s workforce had been laid off about two weeks ago. The fire was called in by a worker who had gone up to the mine to retrieve some items, according to Ouray County Sheriff Junior Mattivi.
“He went in and everything was fine, and when he turned around to go out there were 100-foot flames,” Mattivi said.
This description is corroborated by another eyewitness to the fire, who posted this comment on The Watch’s website:
“We were driving the [Imogene] Pass road from Telluride and I reported this strange fire just as it was igniting. I don't know if it was smokers on the trail or what but it grew so quickly it scared me....”
Authorities believe the fire started in a small outbuilding behind the Camp Bird Mine’s picturesque office structure and mine superintendent’s residence dating back to about 1912. Neither of these historically significant structures was damaged in the fire, Mattivi said.
Firefighters were called to the scene at 6:25 p.m. and had contained the blaze by around 10:30 p.m. with U.S. Forest Service firefighters remaining overnight to watch for flare-ups. According to incident reports, the fire burned about an acre of forest, spread out over a five-acre area.
“There were a lot of spot fires, but we got on it quick and kept it from spreading,” Mattivi said. “We have got some beetle kill up there, but fortunately the fire didn’t get into those stands.”
In addition to the volunteer response from the Ouray Fire District and Ridgway Fire District, Mattivi reported that a total of 29 professional firefighters from two separate Forest Service wildfire crews stationed in the area were dispatched to help stomp on the blaze. A firefighting helicopter responding to the scene was ultimately not needed.
Miners at the Revenue-Virginius mine (just up the road from the Camp Bird Mine) were evacuated as a safety measure, but were allowed to return to work on Monday morning.
The Camp Bird Mine is located on County Road 361 near Ouray. The historic, long-dormant mine has been active once again since last September under new operator Caldera Mineral Resources, but operations have been in a holding pattern for about two weeks now, with 15 of 22 workers laid off.
At press time, Caldera officials had not responded to a request for comments.
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