Evacuees return home after firefighters contain Golf Course blaze near Grand Lake | AspenTimes.com

Evacuees return home after firefighters contain Golf Course blaze near Grand Lake

Burn area remains dangerous according to fire officials

Lance Maggart
Sky-Hi News

The flames have died out on the Golf Course Fire near Grand Lake and evacuees have returned to their homes but despite the seemingly peaceful visage local fire officials are still warning of danger in the area and are stressing the need to keep the public away from the burn scar.

The Golf Course Fire kicked off Thursday afternoon in the Grand Lake area. The blaze, which started shortly before 3 p.m., sent dozens of local and regional firefighters scrambling to protect lives and homes in the residentially developed neighborhoods west of Grand Lake. Approximately 300 homes were evacuated in the area though as of Sunday morning, after reaching 100 percent containment, no structures were reported damaged. Likewise local first responders confirmed no injuries have been reported related to the blaze.

Fire officials said roughly 120 people helped stymie the Golf Course Fire over the weekend including two heavy air tankers dropping flame retardant, often called slurry, and two helicopters utilizing water buckets. Over a dozen fire engines were on the scene working to put the flames out. Officials from Grand Lake Fire said firefighters from the National Park Service, US Forest Service and fire districts throughout Grand County worked the Golf Course Fire along with assistance from crews out of South Dakota and Telluride.

Late Sunday morning Chief Mike Long with the Grand Lake Fire Protection District was out on foot on Golf Course Road patrolling the area and searching for hot spots. Long confirmed the fire’s containment status but added the fire is not officially “out” and is still considered to be smoldering. Long said firefighters will continue to actively patrol the area for the next four to five days.

“If we don’t find any heat for two or three days we will call it out,” Long said.

Long stressed the need to keep local citizens and interested visitors away from the burn area, noting the extreme danger posed by falling trees.

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“A lot of the public just aren’t aware of the hazards,” Long said. “A lot of these trees aren’t healthy to begin with and then when they are fire weakened at the base, they can come down without any notice. We want to keep people out of harm’s way.”

According to Long the fire reached a total size of roughly 20 acres. Additionally fire fighters were forced to contend with over 50 spot fires that cropped up outside the main burn area. Long said fire officials have pinpointed the location where the Golf Course Fire started but have yet to determine the exact cause of the blaze.

When county officials decided to issue evacuation orders Thursday afternoon the call primarily impacted residences on County Road 471, County Road 48 and areas north of those roads including the Columbine Lake neighborhood. Evacuees were allowed to return to their homes Friday evening, which prompted strong emotions that were still lingering Sunday morning.

“This can’t be happening,” Sara Moran said, remembering her thoughts at the time of her evacuation Thursday afternoon. “This is unreal.”

Less than 30 yards from the back door of Sara Moran’s residence the ground is covered in a rust red hue. The color is the result of slurry being dropped by heavy air tankers. The auburn spotted rocks and logs are a reminder of just how close she came to losing her home.

“The slurry saved our house along with the magnificent work of the fire fighters,” Moran said. “They were amazing.”

For former fire fighter Mark Vaniman the experience was a reminder of the power of wildfires.

“I just felt helpless,” Vaniman said, describing his mood as he watched the proceedings from a friend’s home outside the evacuation area. “There is nothing you can do except sit and watch it.”