This image of Simms Fire is grainy, as it's been zoomed in quite a bit. This shows the fire on Thursday night. Image: Simms Fire Inciweb page.

This image of Simms Fire is grainy, as it's been zoomed in quite a bit. This shows the fire on Thursday night, May 19. Image: Simms Fire Inciweb page. 

Residents of the Montrose area aren't happy to learn that a prescribed burn gone awry was behind the destruction of 313 local acres and three structures last month.

A Wednesday press release from the United States Forest Service states that investigators have determined that the Simms Fire was started by the Simms Mesa Prescribed Fire Project. The Simms Fire started on May 19, with an intentional burn being conducted in the same area on May 16. While authorities were monitoring the 188-acre area that was part of the official project during this period, a wind event on the fourth day of the project resulted in the prescribed burn breaking out of containment lines. At that point, the Simms Fire was declared to be a wildfire.

According to officials, at the time the prescribed burn was started, weather conditions and resources available were within the parameters of their plan, thus considered safe. After a successful burn on May 16, firefighters patrolled the area and reported that lines were holding and that there were not signs of significant smoke or heat for multiple days. A later report would indicate that firefighters had been on scene the day the burn area transitioned into a wildfire, on May 19, but that they had left just before the flames sparked.

The blaze would be contained a few days later, on May 23, but not after damage had been done. Reports indicate that structures destroyed included a home, an RV, and a shed.

The investigation into the wildfire is still underway, with authorities currently identifying and contacting potential witnesses.

Prescribed burns are an important part of fire mitigation in Colorado, meant to clear out at-risk areas on days when dangers associated with doing so are lower.

"Every management action on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests is intended to promote forest health and a landscape that is more resilient to drought, insects, and disease," said forest supervisor of the impacted area Chad Stewart. "Our efforts unfortunately resulted in an undesirable outcome, despite the careful, detailed planning by experienced resource professionals. My heart goes out to those who have been deeply impacted by the Simms Fire."

A pause was put on conducting prescribed burns on National Forest System lands on May 20.

Read more about this fire on the official InciWeb page for the event.

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