Fire grows to 11,800 acres Monday night; fight focuses on northern end | AspenTimes.com

Fire grows to 11,800 acres Monday night; fight focuses on northern end

Federal firefighters continued Monday to use hand crews, bulldozers and an arsenal of aircraft to try to prevent the Lake Christine Fire from spreading in the Cattle Creek drainage north of Basalt Mountain.

Shane Greer, incident commander for Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team Black, said at a community meeting in Basalt on Monday that spot fires have crossed Forest Service Road 509, an obscure, dead-end route that is used to access private, historic cabins north of Basalt Mountain.

The firefighting computer models show the fire continuing to consume national forest north and northeast if the spot fires get out of control, he said.

"I think we're going to hold it and keep that from happening," Greer said.

“As little as one-quarter or one-half inch (rain forecasts) could trigger evacuation notices.”

— Jill Ryan, Eagle County commissioner

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The fire grew to 11,796 acres by Monday evening and it was considered 39 percent contained.

Helicopters dropped water and single-engine air tankers dropped retardant to prevent the fire from spreading north Monday, according to Rob Berger, operations section chief. He said wind Sunday night blew embers that started the spot fires.

"There's nothing to be really too worried about with them," he said.

Fire officials said they inadvertently might have created confusion by referring to Forest Road 509 as Upper Cattle Creek Road. The forest road travels in the upper reaches of the Cattle Creek drainage. However, Upper Cattle Creek Road actually goes west at a fork with Basalt Mountain Road. A man in the audience at the community meeting said it was creating concern when fire officials said there had been spotting north of Upper Cattle Creek Road. From now on, fire officials said, they will be more precise and describe the area where they are battling the fire as Forest Road 509.

On another front, Berger said ground crews are making their way through the burn area to get to terrain on the east side of Basalt Mountain that is difficult to access. They will add fire lines and use natural features, like rock scree, to prevent the fire from traveling east toward Toner Creek and Seven Castles. The fire hasn't moved that direction in several days, Berger said.

The skies will be particularly active with helicopters and tankers today.

"We have more aviation assets coming (Tuesday)," Berger said. "We're really happy about that."

Greer said the two-tenths of an inch of rain that fell on the burn area Monday helped firefighting, as did the higher humidity. The rain was light enough that it didn't cause flooding.

That's a leading concern for Basalt, Eagle County and Forest Service officials. The Forest Service has a Burned Area Emergency Response team reporting Wednesday to assess the potential for flooding and debris flows. Meanwhile, Eagle County is doing modeling to determine what areas are most susceptible to flooding.

"As little as one-quarter or one-half inch (rain forecasts) could trigger evacuation notices," County Commissioner Jill Ryan said.

She said people should plan and practice evacuation plans with their families and be prepared to leave at short notice.

Ryan said the state insurance commissioner recommended Eagle County advise people in flood-susceptible areas to purchase flood insurance for five years. Eagle County's website has a map of the potential flood paths and other information at http://www.eaglecounty.us/Emergency/News/Lake_Christine_Fire_Information.

scondon@aspentimes.com