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Grizzly Creek Fire activity slows, firefighters explain defense

Ike Fredregill
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A slurry line wraps around billowing smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

With rain finally coming to Garfield County this week, fire activity is slowing down and fire crews are chasing embers to ensure containment continues to increase, an incident management team spokesperson said.

“The Grizzly Creek Fire is not doing a whole lot (Wednesday),” said Tom Story, an Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team spokesman. “We’re in a little more moist period, so we’re not anticipating a lot of fire spread in the next few days.”

The National Weather Service is forecasting isolated thunderstorms around Glenwood Springs throughout the weekend, and the agency issued a flash flood watch for the area Wednesday afternoon. The humid conditions are a boon to fire crews, who worked hard to increase the fire’s containment up to 61%.

At 32,060 acres, the fire area still harbors dangerous potential for Roaring Fork Valley, Story said.

“(On Wednesday), we did some firing around Spruce Ridge, to protect the folks up at Bair Ranch,” he explained. “And there’s still some really ragged edges, so hand crews are going in to make sure there’s nothing smoldering that could pick up in the wind and ignite elsewhere.”

When possible, incident management teams fight fire with fire through controlled burns in lighter fuels, such as grasses and sage, to reduce the greater fire’s mobility and access to fuels.

Since the Grizzly Creek Fire ignited Aug. 10, firefighting personnel have only suffered 12 injuries, and all were minor, Story reported.

As containment increases, fire resources are being allocated to higher priority blazes across the country, and among them are some of the numerous helicopters that filled the sky during the hottest days of the fire. The air resources currently attached to the incident are two Type 3 helicopters, four Type 1 helicopters and one Type 2 helicopter. Helicopter types denote the size and purpose of the aircraft with Type 1 being the largest category and Type 3 is the smallest.

“Throughout the day, the helicopters are called to areas as needed,” Story explained.

Balancing act

In addition to digging fire lines, dropping aerial bucket loads of water onto the fire and bolstering natural fire breaks such as roads and trails, fire crews also work to protect assets in the area, such as houses and natural attractions.

“Our No. 1 priority is firefighter and public safety,” Story explained. “And the folks in operations make the big decisions about how to do that, but I can say with certainty we’re not going to let a house burn if we can prevent it.”

In periods of slow fire activity, fire crews will also rehabilitate areas where fire lines were dug hasty and deep.

“We do take aesthetics into consideration, but a lot of this comes down to expediency,” Story said. “When we have the time, we take the time to ensure we’re not drawing big scars across the landscape. But, if the fire is bearing down on Glenwood Springs, we’re not going to stop to think about the aesthetics of a fire line.”

On Lookout Mountain, fire crews balanced the potential for fire spread against the desire of the community to save many of recreational features, Greater Basin Great Basin National Incident Type 1 Management Team spokesperson Wayne Patterson said Sunday.

“We’ve got all these cultural and visual concerns on Lookout Mountain,” Patterson explained. “Those things get weighed against the risk of the fire moving toward putting lives at risk.”

Attaching a percentage to that risk, however, is tricky.

“The risk changes from moment to moment dependent on the weather, the terrain and the resources available,” Patterson said. “We balance all those risks against the values at stake and come up with a plan.”

For Lookout Mountain, he said that plan included clearing brush near Boy Scout Trail and creating a contingency plan to include dozers on the trail if needed.

In the urban interface, an asset defense plan can include plumbing a house with sprinklers to keep the ground wet, wrapping the house in fire retardant material or dumping fire retardant throughout the area.

But, at the end of the day, the goal is to stop the fire.

“We’re trying to be sensitive to the needs of the community,” Patterson said. “But, at the same time our priority is to protect them.”

Glenwood Springs Post Independent Editor Peter Baumann contributed to this story. ifredregill@postindependent.com


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