Lake Christine Fire belches smoke plume, rattles nerves on hot day

Smoke from the Lake Christine Fire billowed up Wednesday in the warm, dry and sometimes breezy conditions. Ziska Childs took the photo of the smoke behind a sign she made thanking the firefighters.
Ziska Childs/courtesy photo

The Lake Christine Fire belched up so much smoke Wednesday that it rattled the nerves of residents in Missouri Heights and put on an impressive display for the entire midvalley.

A handful of people called 911 to express concerns to the Basalt Fire Department, but fire management officials have said there will be flare-ups and heavy smoke periods as the fire burns through fuels on Basalt Mountain. They are asking people not to call 911.

The Upper Colorado River Type 3 Incident Management Team tried to calm nerves in its evening update Wednesday.

“All assisting agencies are aware of the increase in smoke and fire activity today and all suppression efforts (are) still continuing,” said a statement released to the public. “The fire has reached some heavy timber fuels today and crews are monitoring.”

The fire grew by an estimated 106 acres to 6,928, according to the fire management team. It remained at 59 percent contained. There are 178 personnel fighting the fire.

Lake Christine Fire: July 18 Update from Outside Adventure Media on Vimeo.

Hot weather — with temperatures around 90 degrees — and gusty winds predicted for Thursday could result in creeping and isolated torching.

“Continued spread in the northwest corner of the fire is likely with a decent chance of the fire spreading to the top of Basalt Mountain,” the statement said.

Aspen Fire crews responded Wednesday morning to a wildfire that broke out near Woody Creek and were able to put it out after it burned about 400 square feet.

The entire Roaring Fork Valley remains in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report issued July 12. The western fifth of Pitkin County is considered in extreme drought, the second-to-worst drought category.

As dry as it’s been this summer in Aspen, it’s been nothing close to a record so far.

Aspen received 0.77 inches of precipitation in May and 1.19 inches in June for a total of 1.96 inches. That’s well below the May-June average of 3.09 inches, according to the water plant’s records.

However, there were five years even drier over the past quarter century. They were 2012, 2006, 2002, 1998 and 1994.

The most notable dry spell was 2002, when a record low 21-hundredths of inches of precipitation fell in May and none fell in June.

The water plant’s report for this June noted that the month seemed drier because most of the rain for the month fell during a compressed time on June 16 and 17.

June “felt dry but 1.19 inches of precipitation was recorded at the treatment plant, very close to the average of 1.21 inches,” the report said. “Of the entire month there were only three days we recorded precipitation.”

Conditions are even drier downvalley. Almost no rain fell in Basalt and El Jebel in June. That helped create the conditions that fueled the Lake Christine Fire. The National Weather Service doesn’t collect data for El Jebel or Basalt.