Firefighters expect calmer winds at Keystone fire | AspenTimes.com

Firefighters expect calmer winds at Keystone fire

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

Wildland fire crews work to contain a wildfire that broke out near Keystone Resort in Colorado Thursday, June 2, 2011. Approximately 20 acres had burned as nightfall set in, but no injuries or structural damage had been reported. Steve Lipsher for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue said Friday the 20-acre fire did not grow overnight and more firefighters were headed to the scene. The wildfire started Thursday afternoon at a logging site at the mouth of Keystone Gulch west of the ski area and grew quickly as strong winds helped push the flames. (AP Photo/Summit Daily News, Mark Fox)

FRISCO, Colo. – A helicopter was dropping water Friday on a fire that burned up a ridge to within 50 yards of homes near Keystone Resort in the central-Colorado Mountains.

The 166-acre fire did not appear to be growing Friday, and more firefighters were headed to the scene, said Steve Lipsher, spokesman for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. Area houses and condominiums had been evacuated a day earlier as a precaution, but everyone was allowed home by around 9 p.m. Thursday, he said. Many of the residences are second homes and were vacant, he said.

The fire initially was estimated at 20 acres, but after walking the perimeter of the burned area, firefighters adjusted the estimate. Not all areas within the 166 acres were burning, Lipsher said.

The wildfire started Thursday afternoon at the mouth of Keystone Gulch west of the ski area, where crews were clearing trees to act as a fire break. Crews weren’t at the site when the fire began and the cause remained under investigation.

Winds gusting up to 50 mph quickly spread the fire, raising fears that it would go over a ridge and into the resort, where Keystone spokesman Ryan Whaley told the Summit Daily News that crews were ready to use snowmaking equipment to dump water on the fire.

“It could have easily blown up much bigger than it did last night,” Lipsher said.

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A federal team was expected to take over control of the fire Friday. About 60 firefighters were at the scene. Crews were working in steep, rocky terrain with cliffs in some places and stands of dead trees that were making it difficult to fight the fire.

Several mountain communities and the U.S. Forest Service have been warning that the millions of acres of trees killed by bark beetles could provide fuel for catastrophic wildfires.

The fire near Keystone is one of at least four major wildfires burning in Colorado Friday.

Crews were at a 1.7-acre wildfire in Left Hand Canyon northwest of Boulder, north of an area where a wildfire destroyed more than 160 homes in September. That fire was fully contained after firefighters from four departments, the city of Boulder and the county responded to the scene.

“Given the low humidity and high temperatures, the conditions were favorable for intense fire behavior (Friday),” said incident commander Julie Stennes. “We are relieved to have the fire contained so quickly.”

Officials said the fire started when a bullet ricocheted during target practice. Two people at the U.S. Forest Service area where people practice shooting firearms tried extinguishing the flames that quickly grew into a wildfire.

In southern Colorado, officials reported progress against two wildfires that collectively have scorched about 20 square miles.

A lightning-sparked fire on the Colorado-New Mexico border was about 50 percent contained. A second fire at Purgatorie River Canyon northeast of Trinidad was 75 percent contained.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration Thursday to authorize up to $2.5 million in state aid for the firefighting costs.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for south-central Colorado from Woodland Park south to the New Mexico border. A red flag warning means dry, windy conditions exist that increase the risk of fire.

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