Flames cap Fourth of July in Eagle | AspenTimes.com

Flames cap Fourth of July in Eagle

Matt Zalaznick
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
A plane drops slurry on a wildfire believed to have been ignited by lightning just south of Eagle Ranch Wednesday evening. (Shane Macomber/Vail Daily)

EAGLE ” With smoking billowing into the sky Wednesday night, the bright red plumes of fire retardant dropped from circling planes drew “ooohs” and “ahhs” as if they were fireworks.

Residents of the southernmost neighborhood of Eagle Ranch gathered at a trailhead at the end of their Fourth of July holiday to watch shoots of flame chew up federal land about a mile up the Hernage Creek Trail, which leads to the town’s water tank.

Most weren’t worried that the wildfire, believed to have been started by lightning around 5:30 p.m., would damage their homes.

“I didn’t expect to have fireworks in my backyard,” said Linda Wescoatt, whose Hernage Creek Road home was closest to the fire, which, at around 10:30 p.m., was estimated to be between 5 and 10 acres large.

Wescoatt said she had gone inside after gardening when she first saw the smoke in the dry hills beyond her home. At first, she was nervous, she said.

“My cat just died and I got her little bag of ashes and put it in the car,” said Wescoatt, who wasn’t initially sure if she’d have to evacuate.

Matt Sauer, whose family lives next door to Wescoatt in the Hidden Draw neighborhood, said the wind was strong when the fire started.

“At first, the wind blew it up big, but they brought some tankers in,” said Sauer, who turned on his sprinklers to dampen the grass around his home. He and his family still planned to watch Eagle’s fireworks Wednesday night.

Planes dropped fire retardant several times, said Lee Ann Loupe, spokeswoman for the federal Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit that was fighting the fire.

“It’s not actively moving,” Loupe said at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

No homes were threatened and about 20 firefighters were working to stop the blaze, along with three fire engines and airplanes, Loupe said.

“With the fire retardant and crews they were able to slow it down,” she said.

The firefighters were expected to work through the night to build a line around the blaze in order to contain it, Loupe said.

Troy Hervey, an earth moving foreman, was working in the area when he saw what he believes was the bolt of the lightning that started the fire.

“A dry thunderstorm moved through and there was just a single strike. Within about 15 to 20 minutes, we saw smoke,” Hervey said.

Wescoatt said she often walks the Hernage Creek Trail and the brush has dried out after weeks without rain.

“It’s been dry, dry,” she said. “It’s been dry everywhere.”

Down Hernage Creek Road, neighbors Brady Calton and John Packer and their families were watching the smoke from a row of lawn chairs in the driveway.

“Might as well watch it until it comes close and then get going,” said Calton, adding he didn’t expect the fire to get close enough to be a concern.

And despite flames and smoke about a mile away, the families planned to head in town to watch the fireworks, Packer said.

“We’re just going down to watch the fireworks, then come back and watch the fire,” Packer said.