Lake Christine Fire 30 percent contained; 200 firefighters to be sent elsewhere | AspenTimes.com

Lake Christine Fire 30 percent contained; 200 firefighters to be sent elsewhere

Firefighters gained their most significant ground so far in reining in control of the Lake Christine Fire, reporting Sunday that they had reached 30 percent containment.

The blaze had grown 200 acres from Saturday to Sunday, amassing 5,900 acres.

"Obviously as you look (outside), we've got a little bit of liquid," Keith Brink, operations sections chief, told the audience gathered for an end-of-the-day briefing at Basalt High School. The rainfall, while fleeting, "is helping (Sunday), but we've got a long way in making the area a lot less vulnerable to fire."

Temperatures in the Basalt/El Jebel area are expecting to reach the 90s today and Tuesday, and in the 80s later in the week.

"We're moving back into … a little bit of a drier pattern with chance of precipitation all week in the mid 20s (percentage range)," Brink said.

The upshot, however, is authorities and firefighters are gaining confidence each day battling the blaze, which started Tuesday afternoon at the Basalt shooting range when two people were firing tracer rounds. One sign of that is firefighters here will be dispatched to other fires where more help is needed.

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"We are making real good progress," Brink said. "In fact, we're going to release 200 people over the next few days for other fires where they are short of resources."

There are at least other active 10 fires in Colorado and more than 30 in the western United States.

Other firefighters at the Lake Christine Fire are focused on the higher elevations above Basalt and El Jebel.

"We moved another hotshot group in here today and we've got 60 people dealing with the smoke and the tough country up there," Brink said.

Any growth in the fire is expected in the higher elevations where structures aren't as threatened, officials said.

Despite the encouraging developments, authorities said the smoke-filled air will persist for weeks, and people also are likely to see hints of flames during the night hours, incident commander Mike Almas said. Those flames are harmless, however, though reports of them have been jamming up the local 911 system.

"You're going to see what looks like candles, I mean a lot," Almas said, adding that "people have been calling 911 so much that it's become a problem. And that's happening because there is very heavy fuel that's burning out. It's not a current threat to your or your residences."

He added: "Please don't call 911 unless it is directly affecting your house."

Some firefighters have been injured while out it the field, including one Saturday who was involved in a bulldozer rollover.

"It's under investigation but I can say the person, we flew him to the hospital. He was released last night (Saturday) with some bumps and bruises," Almas said.

The fire, which has destroyed three homes, resulted in the mandatory evacuation of 1,793 residents from 664 homes by the Eagle County Sheriff's Office, according to InciWeb, an informational website for wildfires.

As of Saturday, the agency reported 782 evacuees from 279 homes had returned home, and more continued Sunday, including at the El Jebel Mobile Home Park and the Basalt neighborhoods of Big Pinon and Little Pinon, Shadow Rock, Original Road, Pine Ridge, Sagewood Court, Hillcrest, Silverado and Two Rivers for access to Hillcrest. More were scheduled for today, including Two Rivers Road, Wilderness Road, Promontory Lane, Wild Spring Lane, Ridge Road and Cedar Drive to Piñon Drive.

Cedar Drive at the Piñon Drive intersection will remain closed indefinitely but displaced residents, starting at 10 a.m. today, will be given 20-minute escorted visits by the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. Escorted visits to Upper Cattle Creek Road in Missouri Heights, which also is closed, were offered starting Sunday night.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com