Lake Christine Fire day 3: Fire grows to 5,263 acres; 3 structures lost | AspenTimes.com

Lake Christine Fire day 3: Fire grows to 5,263 acres; 3 structures lost

The Lake Christine Fire destroyed three homes during a “prolific ember shower” overnight Wednesday into Thursday and grew to 5,263 acres by Thursday night, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Roger Staats, Northern Rockies incident commander.

Two of the residences that burned were in El Jebel, Staats said. The third was a frame house on Missouri Heights. There have been no injuries to firefighters or members of the public.

Staats credited local firefighters for preventing more structures from burning.

“They worked very diligently, worked very hard and probably saved several hundred homes that would have been impacted from the fire,” Staats said.

The fire was zero percent contained as of 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Staats added. About 500 homes have been evacuated, though that number could be higher because of the frenetic pace of operations late Wednesday and early Thursday. An unknown number of people have been displaced.

There are about 200 local and federal firefighters on the scene now. That will swell to 300 by Friday. Federal firefighters include hotshot crews, hand crews and engines.

Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to visit the area Friday morning and is scheduled to meet with the media afterward. After visiting the Lake Christine Fire area, he will go to the Spring Fire near La Veta. That fire has grown to 100,000 acres.

“The Lake Christine Fire grew significantly on July 4th, due to erratic outflow winds, extremely dry fuels, and single digit relative humidity,” Eagle County Sheriff’s Office posted on its website. “Local crews worked all night long, performing firing operations and protecting over a hundred homes.”

The fire grew so much Wednesday night that it doubled in size by Thursday morning. It had burned nearly 2,700 acres by 7 p.m. Wednesday night. It appeared firefighters would catch a break as the sun was setting because the wind calmed down and the fire’s march slowed.

"We were feeling pretty good, Staats said. “We did know we had a lot of unsecured fire line. The fire was starting to settle down. It usually does at night but we had a thunderstorm passage and we had some outflow winds. It was not projected. It was actually a thunderstorm that was over on the east side of the (Continental) Divide. The National Weather Service did not predict that this outflow wind would reach this far but it did. It got rather strong all the way to 3 o'clock this morning. The fire became very active. That when it was all hands on deck."

In addition to burning onto private lands in the El Jebel and Basalt areas, the fire has burned state lands in the Basalt State Wildlife Area, Bureau of Land Management holdings and national forest.

The Northern Rockies Incident Management Team took over management of the fire Thursday morning and will coordinate with local agencies.

A community meeting was held Thursday at the Basalt High School.

Staats said higher humidities are forecast for the next three days, which could help firefighting efforts. However, the heavy smoke hanging over the midvalley could hinder getting helicopters and other aircraft in operation.

"Its hazardous for aircraft to fly when it's smoky,” Staats said. “It's hard to see terrain and the other part of it is it’s hard to see firefighters on the ground or each other."

Helicopters resumed water drops shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday and the air assault went on throughout the day. Other helicopters had been ordered along with tankers. Staats said availability is determined by what resources are needed at other fires. On Wednesday aircraft weren’t available until around 11 a.m. for the Lake Christine Fire even though conditions for flying were ideal earlier in the morning.

"I wouldn't say it's an issue but there's a lot of competition for the aircraft that are available,” Staats said. “The Spring Fire in southern Colorado has been a high priority and there's a lot of homes involved there. Basically they have to prioritize where those aircraft go and there were fires that were a higher priority."

On Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, hundreds of people gathered in the parking lots of the Willits Town Center and watched early into the morning as the flames from the fire, which started Tuesday at the shooting range on the Basalt State Wildlife Area, swept toward El Jebel.

Residents first in the El Jebel area and then in Missouri Height had mandatory evacuations as the winds pushed flames downvalley. As well, the evacuation center was moved from the Basalt High School to the Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.

Local officials met early Thursday morning with the federal authorities for the transition to take command of the fire operations. Federal authorities have set up a command center at the Crown Mountain Park area.

Garfield County officials sent a note Thursday morning that those with large livestock can take them to the county fairgrounds in Rifle.

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation notice for Missouri Heights at 12:47 a.m. Thursday.

"All residents in Missouri Heights should evacuate immediately," the alert said. "Evacuate via Fender Lane to Catherine Store Road, then take (Highway) 82." Roaring Fork High School has been designated as a shelter.

The hillside above the El Jebel area was aglow shortly after sunset. Calm conditions suddenly turned wicked with wind. Firefighters shot flares to the upvalley or easterly side of the El Jebel Mobile Home Park around 11 p.m. to burn fuels in a somewhat controlled manner and prevent the advance of the wildfire.

Residents El Jebel Mobile Home Park were ordered to evacuate at about 9:40 p.m. Wednesday when the Lake Christine Fire crested a ridge and winds pushed flames toward the heavily populated area.

Recommended Stories For You

HOW TO HELP

  • The Aspen Community Foundation has set up a donation link on their website for those wishing to contribute. The funds will be channeled to needed resources to respond to immediate and long-term needs of disaster victims, their families and impacted communities. https://aspencommunityfoundation.org/donate-to-acf-to-help-victims-of-basalt-fire/ 
  • The Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus is accepting donations of water and liquids such as Gatorade in sealed containers to deliver to firefighters battling the Lake Christine Fire. You can drop off donations in boxes at the store located at 315 E. Main Street in downtown Aspen.
  • The Salvation Army is coordinating donation efforts for the area. Call 970-748-0704 for more information.
  • Alpine Bank is matching donations to the Red Cross dollar for dollar up to $250,000 to help those impacted by the fires throughout Colorado. You can make donations at https://www.redcross.org/donate/cm/alpinebank-pub
  • At this time the Red Cross has enough volunteers for the first wave. Should a second wave be needed we will update accordingly. Please do not just show up at the shelters to help unless you have been contacted.