Firefighting air resources flock to Grizzly Creek Fire
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Fire crews and their air resources are working around the Grizzly Creek Fire perimeter to slow the blaze’s progress, but containment remained at 0% Monday evening, an incident management team spokesperson said.
“It doesn’t sound like we’re making much progress, saying zero percent containment,” said Brian Scott, a Great Basin National Incident Type 1 Management Team spokesperson. “But we really are making progress. We just can’t call any part of the fire line solid enough to count it as contained.”
Now the largest wildfire in the history of the White River National Forest, the Grizzly Creek Fire started Aug. 10 along Interstate 70 and has since grown to about 25,000 acres.
“The severity of the terrain in the area is part of the reason we haven’t been able to put a lot of boots on the ground in some of the spots around the perimeter,” Scott said. “Instead, we’ve had to back off to better terrain to put our fire lines in.”
Resources such as hand crews, engines, firefighting equipment and air support are streaming in each day. As of Monday morning, 647 personnel were combatting the flames with support of more than 50 vehicles and 17 helicopters, according to a Great Basin news release.
“We’ve had no injuries so far, which is extremely fortunate on a fire this size,” Scott said. “But three structures were lost: a cabin and two out-buildings.”
Later in the week, potential thunderstorms won’t likely bring much precipitation, Scott said, but the management team is concerned about the possibility of lightning and high winds brought by the storms.
“For the last couple of days, we’ve had winds come in from the north,” he explained. “Which is good, because they’ve been slowing the fire’s progress by folding it back on itself.”
Fire crews worked Monday with dozers to build containment lines in several locations around the fire, but a primary focus was west of No Name Creek.
“They’ve been putting indirect line — line ahead of the fire,” Scott said. “If the fire comes up out of No Name Creek, they’re working to ensure we can stop it on the ridge before it progresses further west.”
As firefighters toil on the ground, helicopters and planes — large and small — buzz the fire area, dropping buckets of water or fire retardant on the blaze or monitoring the situation from the birds-eye view.
As seen with many of the smaller fires leading up to the Grizzly Creek Fire, Garfield County has access to several quick-acting air resources.
Measured by “type” from 1 to 3, with 3 being the smallest resource, the Rife Garfield County airport is home to a Type 1 helicopter, Type 3 helicopter and several Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT), U.S. Forest Service Spokesperson David Boyd said.
“We have a lot of people and urban interface in this area, which plays a role in where air resources are stationed,” Boyd explained. “But Rifle is also centrally located in the region.”
Boyd works with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit (UCR Fire), which is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service based in the Garfield County area.
The Type 3 helicopter based in Rifle is a UCR Fire resource, which can be assigned to fires in the group’s coverage area, but the Type 1 and SEATs are national resources.
“National resources may be based here, but they can be sent around the country to fight fires,” Boyd said. “So, it’s not always a guarantee they’re available if something pops up around here.”
Additionally, several heavy air tankers are based in Grand Junction and a group of very large air tankers is temporarily based in Colorado Springs, he said.
“Typically, the helicopters are dropping water on the fire,” Boyd said. “And the air tankers drop the retardant, which slows the fire.”
All of these nearby aircraft grant local fire crews access to a pool of air resources for expedient response to wildfires around the region.
“We work really closely with the local fire departments in the county,” Boyd said. “So, they know what’s available and can call in for support immediately.”
Even so, with the right conditions, fires can spread quicker than crews — aerial or otherwise — can establish containment, leading to fires like Grizzly Creek.
In response, the call goes out for more firefighters and more air resources.
As of Monday, 17 helicopters were combating the Grizzly Creek Fire. Nine Type 1’s, one Type 2 and seven Type 3’s, Scott said.
No word yet on I-70 reopening
As recent photographs of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon document, currently I-70 features impassible conditions with large boulders strewn around the roadway.
I-70 continues to be closed between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum, with no estimated time for reopening. Forest Service Road 400, Eagle-Thomasville Road, is closed due to excessive traffic and accidents resulting from drivers attempting to use this primarily dirt road as an alternate to the I-70 closure. Cottonwood Pass Road in Garfield and Eagle counties, Coffee Pot Road, Transfer Trail and Clinetop Mesa roads and areas of the Flattops accessed by those roads also are closed, as well as many surrounding White River National Forest and BLM roads. For more information regarding road closure, visit cotrip.org.
For more information, go to the Grizzly Creek Fire Facebook page, the Garfield County website at Garfield-county.com or ecemergency.org. The next Grizzly Creek Fire community meeting will be held virtually today at 6 p.m. To tune into the meeting in English, go to the Grizzly Creek Fire Facebook page. To tune into the meeting in Spanish, go to the Mi Salud, Mi Charco Facebook page.
Pam Boyd of the Vail Daily contributed to this report.