Crews work to get upper hand in wildfire |

Crews work to get upper hand in wildfire

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kelley Cox

GLENWOOD SPRINGS After a long, hot Tuesday afternoon, firefighters were beginning to get control of a wildfire that ignited about five miles west of Glenwood Springs.

The New Castle Fire in the Canyon Creek area grew to 1,060 acres by 8:30 p.m. Strong afternoon winds whipped the fire north and east, threatening homes. About 90 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order, and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said more evacuations were possible if the fire were to cross Canyon Creek Road. By late afternoon the fire had come within a half-mile of some homes, he said.As dusk settled in the valley between New Castle and Glenwood Springs, fire commander Mike Piper was hopeful the blaze would “lay down” overnight. Around 7 p.m. on the west side of Canyon Creek Road, fire crews started a back burn, which was burning toward the advancing fire. The burned-out area represented an attempt to stop the fire from crossing the road to the east side, where the homes are located.The six or seven aircraft that had dropped loads of water and fire retardant on the flames all day had turned toward home in the evening and left an eerie silence in their wake. Piper credited the air tankers and helicopters with keeping the fire from getting out of hand during the day. “The air drops were invaluable,” he said.

As of 8:30 p.m. Piper said 15 to 20 percent of the fire was contained. There was no structure damage, but two firefighters were injured. One had a hand injury, and another suffered heat exhaustion.Indeed, the air support and more than 200 firefighters on the ground – resources pulled from other fires in the region to fight this fire – are a direct legacy of the Storm King Fire. Storm King, which burned just a few miles east of the New Castle Fire, is still fresh in the minds of fire departments and federal agencies. On July 6, 1994, the fire in West Glenwood blew up the steep slope of Storm King Mountain, trapping and killing 14 firefighters.”As we stand here and look at Storm King, it commands a lot of respect” among fire managers, Piper said. “It makes resources [for fires in the area] a higher priority.”

Piper said crews would stay on the ground overnight to monitor the progress of the back burn.Piper also said he would hand over command Thursday morning to a Type 2 federal interagency team, which will bring more manpower to the scene. Area fire departments have fought the fire since it started during a severe lightning storm Sunday night. “We can’t support this type of operation for any length of time,” he said. Piper said the blaze is especially difficult to fight because it was burning in rough terrain, which made it impossible to bring in bulldozers to build a line around the fire. Ground crews were fighting spot fires and building some fire line by hand, he said.Vallario said the evacuations were going smoothly Tuesday. “The people who were evacuated have been wonderful, and very understanding,” Vallario said. They’ve had lots of practice. Many of the same families were evacuated during the Storm King Fire.Vallario said he will host a meeting with evacuees at 1 p.m. today at Riverside Middle School in New Castle.

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