From The Aspen Times (Alex Zorn):
On Friday, 214 fire personnel were working the fire with six hand crews (roughly 20 people per crew), 18 engines (varies with three to five fire personnel), two Type 2 helicopters, two Type 1 helicopters and a light helicopter that is used mainly for reconnaissance work, according to Friday’s on-duty public information officer Pat Thrasher.
One of the heavy Chinook helicopters used to fight the fire also has been stationed out of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, according to Amy Helm, manager of the small airport south of town.
Friday was the first day that Single Engine Air Tankers, or SEATs, were not used to drop slurry, or retardant, on the fire line, though four were stationed at Rifle Airport on Friday just in case.
“We are supporting ground personnel, they are doing the hard work,” SEAT pilot Bob DeRosier said. “Anytime we can clear them to save structures, that’s what we are there for.”
While the SEATs were not necessary Friday, the tankers were used to drop slurry on the fire’s boundary to help solidify the fire line and allow ground crews access to the area.
From The Fairplay Flume:
As of Monday, July 2, the Weston Pass Fire (left) had grown to 6,417 acres. Park County issued mandatory evacuations for eight homes south of County Road 22 and for the Campground of the Rockies Association. Those living in the Black Mountain subdivision are under voluntary evacuation orders, and should be ready to leave at any time. For the High Chateau Fire (right) there were mandatory evacuations in place for Park Ridge, Doe Valley, Pike Meadow, Four Mile Ranch, Olson Slater Creek, and Ponderosa subdivisions between 8826 County Road 100 and County Road 102 and between County Road 71 and the Teller County line. The fire had grown to 1,422 acres.
From The Denver Post:
Containment estimates on the Spring Creek and 416 fires increased Friday as firefighters took advantage of improved weather conditions to close out the week.
SPRING CREEK FIRE
When rain came to the Spring Creek fire area, people stopped what they were doing and literally danced in the streets.
The fire in Costilla and Huerfano counties in southern Colorado has burned more than 105,000 acres and was 35 percent contained as of Friday, according to fire officials.
U.S. 160 over La Veta Pass is scheduled to reopen at 2 p.m. Saturday, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. The pass has been closed since June 27…
North of Durango the 416 fire has burned more than 54,000 acres, and containment was at 50 percent on Friday, fire officials said.
Increasing subtropical moisture is expected to move into southwest Colorado through the weekend, including afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Rain accumulation of about a quarter inch is forecast Saturday, with up to the same on Sunday, fire officials said.
“A quasi-monsoon pattern is setting up,” said Russell Danielson, a meteorologist and NWS spokesman. The current weather pattern is bringing much-needed moisture to the intermountain West in the form of isolated showers and storms.
A high-pressure change in the near future could allow more moisture to stream into the fire area as the summer progresses, Danielson said. Slow thunderstorms are expected in the area Monday and Tuesday.
WESTON PASS FIRE
The fire, started by lightning on June 28 southwest of Fairplay, has moved into the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness area, which is now closed to the public.
The fire has burned about 12,900 acres and was 32 percent contained as of Friday, fire officials said…
LAKE CHRISTINE FIRE
Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted at 7 p.m. Friday for the area north of Colorado 82 and west of El Jebel Road/Upper Cattle Creek road to the Garfield County line. The lifting of the order allows 150 families to return to their homes. All other evacuations orders remain in place.
The 5,263 fire, about one mile northwest of Basalt, is 0 percent contained. The fire roared on the night of July 4, destroying three homes. It was first reported on July 3 racing through extremely dry fuels.
At least 925 residences had been evacuated and potentially remain threatened in the Basalt, El Jebel and Missouri Heights areas.
From The Durango Herald (Ryan Simonovich):
About 250 homes were placed on pre-evacuation notice Friday afternoon for possible flooding around the 416 Fire burn area, but as of 8 p.m., no floods had been reported.
The notice was issued for homes near the Tripp Creek and Dyke Gulch drainages north of Durango. It included High Meadows Ranch, Falls Creek Ranch and Sanctuary subdivisions, as well as Durango Regency mobile home park, Hermosa Circle and Tripp Creek, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County.
Storm clouds developed Friday afternoon over the mountains north of Durango, but no significant rainfall resulted. Isolated thunderstorms producing heavy amounts of rainfall did occur west of the burn area in parts of Montezuma County.
The evacuation notice was issued because soil conditions in the burn area of the 416 Fire cannot hold moisture, which can trigger floods and debris flows. The pre-evacuation notices, issued about 3:45 p.m., were meant to prepare residents in the event they have to evacuate in a moment’s notice, Graham said.
Areas on alert were in zones that have historically experienced debris flows.
A flash-flood watch was issued by the National Weather Service until 9 p.m. Friday.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Jennifer Costich, spokeswoman for the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt, reported late Friday afternoon that firefighting efforts were progressing well over the course of the day in terms of building a fireline in some areas. The fire had burned 5,263 acres as of the latest estimate, destroying three homes earlier in the week. About 350 firefighters were working on it Friday afternoon, with the help of five helicopters.
Nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated as a result of the fire. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office on Friday lifted a voluntary evacuation order applying to residents living in the Missouri Heights area of Garfield County, but other mandatory evacuation orders remain in place.
Hickenlooper was joined by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., at a stop at the Basalt fire that was to be followed by ground visits and flyovers of other blazes including the massive Spring Creek Fire in southern Colorado.
“Where you get this many fires at one time you obviously stretch your resources,” Hickenlooper said during the Basalt stop, according to a video the Aspen Times posted to its website.
He said the most firefighting assets ever deployed in Colorado may be currently active in the state, but he voiced confidence in the ability to access more if warranted…
The Divide Fire about 32 miles northwest of Craig had burned about 13,500 acres as of Friday afternoon.
That fire began June 29. Its cause remains under investigation.
After several days of minimal activity it flared up Wednesday, growing by nearly 7,000 acres, and several aircraft responded to help ground crews. The fire made an additional push Thursday evening, and hot, windy weather contributed to further growth Friday, authorities say.
BLM spokesman David Boyd said the fire burned a home June 29 and a seasonally occupied trailer on Wednesday. He said some structures are still threatened by the blaze, which is burning in sagebrush.
About 75 firefighters were fighting the blaze Friday, along with four single-engine air tankers and a helicopter.
Hickenlooper on Friday noted that it was the 24th anniversary of the day that 14 firefighters were killed while fighting a blaze on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs.
“Everybody is very aware of that and sensitive to that. We’ve got to make sure the highest priority obviously is the safety of the citizens but also the people fighting the fires,” he said.
Hickenlooper also addressed the issue of the Lake Christine Fire’s reported cause — two people allegedly shooting tracer bullets at a Colorado Parks and Wildlife shooting range. While CPW has noted that the use of such bullets is never allowed at its shooting ranges, it has faced questions about allowing the shooting range to stay open even after Eagle County had gone into heightened, Stage 2 fire restrictions. The agency since has closed until further notice all its shooting ranges in northwest Colorado, including two in Mesa County.
Here’s a photo essay from Tucson.com. From the article:
More than 60 large blazes burn across the United States, mostly in the West, where whipping winds and increasing heat have made it easy for flames to spread.
Fires exploded in Northern California, Utah and other areas, where a prolonged and severe drought has desiccated forests.
Hotter, drier weather was forecast in Northern California, where thousands of firefighters were battling a wildfire that was already about three times the size of San Francisco.
Smoke from the fire temporarily halted flights into the resort town of Aspen, Colo. A tornado was reported Thursday south of Fairplay, a central Colorado town about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level. Tornadoes are rare at that elevation and are seldom seen at any wildfire.
In Utah, scorching summer temperatures and winds quickly pushed flames through bone-dry vegetation. The 66-square-mile (171-square-kilometer) fire near Strawberry Reservoir has burned about 90 structures.
From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):
Since the [Spring Fire] was ignited by a man cooking in a fire pit on June 27, wind currents out of the southwest have been mostly pushing the north end of the 100,000-acre-plus wildfire in a northeasterly direction. But a cold front swept in overnight turning the fire 180 degrees. It was a good thing for homes on the eastern flank, but an absolutely devastating turn of events for neighborhoods and pine forests on the western flank, Brack said.
With wind gusts of 35 mph, the fast-moving blaze defied measurement, Brack said. Officials say the total number of damaged homes stands at 119 and the number of demolished homes is 132, although authorities know those figures are a small percentage of the affected homes. Dangerous conditions have made it too difficult for county officials to go into neighborhoods and count how many homes have been damaged or destroyed. Tallies are expected to rise significantly.
Officially, the fire swept over an additional 15,000 to 20,000 acres at night, when wildfires normally lay down as temperatures drop.
“We’re seeing unprecedented fire behavior that pushed this fire through the night. Because the fire has been moving so fast we don’t know exactly know how big it has become,” Brack said.
The thermodynamics of this historic wildfire demand unusual tactics by firefighters. Crews have bulldozed trenches around subdivisions and homes, installed sprinkling systems and back-burned brush to create extremely wide fire breaks. But the blaze remains only 5 percent contained.
From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):
Fire experts battling several wildfires across Colorado including the 416 fire north of Durango; Spring Creek fire in south central Colorado and the Lake Christine fire near Basalt are using terms like “unprecedented” and “unnatural” to describe fire dynamics this season. Wildfires typically burn uphill, not downhill. They lay down at night, not race faster than any man can run. A 300-foot-high tsunami of wildfire scorched 20,000 acres of heavy tall pine forests and grassland into stumps and ash, said Ben Brack, spokesman for the 103,000 Spring Creek fire…
“I have never seen this kind of fire behavior in my 40 years of fighting fires,” said Chief Scott Thompson, of the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District, about the Christine Lake fire in Eagle County…
The unusual fire behavior triggered an emergency evacuation of the Missouri Heights trailer park at around 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Three homes were destroyed and the wildfire blew up from more than 300 acres to around 2,700 acres. The intense wildfire triggered power line explosions, he said.
“We’re kind of bummed. We feel like we failed…” Thompson said.
In the interest of safety, wildfire task forces have had to change up tactics, which has somewhat damaged morale, Brack said.
“We’re not used to being pushed back by fire. We like being right on the fire fighting it. But this fire is moving too fast. Grass fires are moving up to 35 miles an hour. No human can outrun that,” he said.
From The Cortez Journal (Stephanie Alderton):
The Burro Fire continued to lie down Friday after two days of rain in the San Juan Mountains.
Public information officer Kathy Russell said the fire remains at 4,593 acres with minimal activity after afternoon rains gave the area “a good soaking” on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday she said firefighters will continue to clear containment lines of any possible fuel sources, while the crews that have reached their 21-day limit prepare to demobilize. Despite its reduced movement, the fire will likely continue to smolder for a long time.
The weather has been favorable for firefighting efforts ever since temperatures started cooling down earlier this week, Russell said.
“The fire was calmed down already because of the increased humidity, and when that rain came, it calmed down even more,” she said. “We expect it to continue at very low levels.”
The National Weather Service predicted more afternoon showers and thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday, with temperatures in the low 70s. Although both Thursday and Friday’s showers came with lightning, Russell said it doesn’t seem to have caused any more fire activity. Firefighters always leave exposed places “at the first sign of lighting,” according to a Saturday morning press release.
Crews have finished constructing a contingency line down to Colorado Highway 145, and the San Juan Hotshots who spearheaded that effort have left the scene, Russell said. Out of the remaining personnel, several planned to spend Saturday removing firefighting equipment from the area and bringing it to the U.S. Forest Service district office in Dolores.
According to the release, all equipment must be inventoried, cleaned and shipped to the Rocky Mountain Interagency Support Cache, which supplies wildland firefighting efforts across the West.
On Saturday there were about 45 firefighters working on the Burro Fire, but Russell said several personnel have completed their 21-day assignment and will be gone by Sunday. Members of the interagency incident management team are required to take some time off after three weeks at a fire.
Other personnel, including the two new crews that arrived this week, planned to continue clearing and widening containment lines. Although Russell said firefighters don’t expect the fire to grow as long as the rain continues, it remains officially at 40 percent containment.