Rawlins arson dog sent to Beaver Creek Fire near Colorado line
By Trudy Balcom
RAWLINS — The Rawlins Fire Department arson dog was called to the site of the Beaver Creek Fire early yesterday morning.
The wildfire, located about 15 miles northwest of Walden, Colo., and about two miles from the Wyoming border, started last Sunday and has burned 5,368 acres as of Thursday.
Sasha, a nine-year-old female black lab owned by the Rawlins Fire Department, is the only certified arson dog in the State of Wyoming.
Handler Stephanie Schofield got the call requesting Sasha’s assistance from Fire Chief John Rutherford, who was contacted by fire investigators. Rutherford is the primary handler for the dog, and Schofield was recently certified as the secondary handler.
“We were called because they had some suspicions,” Schofield said. “I’ve been to wildland fires before.”
Schofield said she arrived at the incident command post for the fire by about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and investigators drove her and Sasha to the area where they believe the fire started.
Schofield said the fire was well beyond the burned area she visited, but there were potential remnants of the fire called “smokes” nearby. The “smokes” occur in patches of unburned brush and trees, where embers may linger and re-ignite a small area.
“There were beetle-killed areas that that burned really well, and areas along creek beds that did not burn,” she said.
Schofield said she also saw firefighting helicopters and fire hand-crews that were working to help contain the fire. Schofield said it was overcast, but the rain that fell on Rawlins Thursday did not fall on the area where the fire is located.
Sasha was deployed and quickly worked a small patch of ground.
“That’s the great thing about a dog, they can move very fast,” Schofield said. She noted that in other types of settings, such as a building, the dog can work the site in a matter of minutes, while for a fire marshal it could take hours or days.
With their job done, Schofield and Sasha were back in Rawlins by midday.
U.S. Forest Service Officer Hannah Nadeau, who is investigating the fire said Friday that dogs can be helpful to her work.
“It’s just nice to have an arson dog to help rule things out, a process of elimination,” she said.
However, Nadeau said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and made no further comment.
According to a U.S. Forest Service press release about the fire issued Friday, “the initial vehicle sought in the investigation has been cleared of suspicion.”
The press release indicated that the fire was burning in areas that have as much as 80 percent beetle killed trees, and that the plan was to let those areas burn.
According to the press release, Deputy Incident Commander Rob Powell said “the fire needs to burn through areas of beetle kill while firefighters continue to scout and prepare indirect containment lines and protect values at risk. Maintaining firefighter and public safety is the top priority.”
So far, 379 firefighters, four helicopters, 11 fire engines, two bulldozers and one hand-crew have been sent to help contain the Beaver Creek Fire.
Numerous National Forest and Bureau of Land Management campgrounds and recreational facilities near the fire have been closed, and about 40 private cabins or residences are at risk, the press release stated.
A Facebook page with information about and photos of the fire has posted under the title ‘Beaver Creek Fire.’