Lake Christine Fire has affected 237 flights in, out of Aspen
Commercial flights are operating at full capacity into and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, which has been impacted due to the Lake Christine Fire burning above Basalt.
Temporary flight restrictions were lifted Saturday, airport director John Kinney said.
“It’s burning at a moderate rate so it’s becoming a little less impactful to us,” he said Tuesday. “We’re back to normal operations but we still have the caution flag out.”
Prior to this past weekend, commercial airlines were unable to fly over the fire area while helicopters and aircraft were battling the blaze from the air.
Since the fire broke out July 3 at the Basalt shooting range, 237 flights have been impacted, most of which were canceled, according to Kinney.
Hotel occupancy also was hit, with the biggest drop in bookings coming on the Saturday after the fire broke out.
Between July 3 and July 22, there were 698 scheduled flights and 34 percent of them were impacted.
At United, 58 arrivals and 73 departures were affected; American Airlines had 27 arrivals and 33 departures impacted; and Delta Airlines’ 20 scheduled arrivals and 20 departures were diverted to Grand Junction.
American was able to divert seven arrivals to Grand Junction, according to Kinney. Passengers were then bused to Aspen.
Flight restrictions have been just as erratic as the fire the past three weeks. And just like the residents living near the fire who are on pre-evacuation status, the airlines are on standby, as well.
“We are getting optimistic but cautiously optimistic,” Kinney said.
As of Tuesday evening, nearly 12,000 acres had burned. The fire is 39 percent contained with 394 personnel at a cost of over $10 million.
Kinney said he and his operations personnel have been in constant contact with the fire’s incident command team, the FAA and the air traffic control tower on a daily basis.
“We talk three to seven times a day,” he said. “It’s really hour-by-hour.”
Kinney noted that the airlines are dealing with a national system so they cannot get aircraft here quickly enough when restrictions are lifted for short periods of time.
And that has frustrated some travelers, especially those who experienced a shortage of rental cars here.
“(The airlines) are not as nimble as some people would like,” Kinney said.
July has become the busiest month of the year for Aspen’s tourism economy. With the Aspen Security Forum falling right in the middle of last week’s fire flare-up, it has been challenging for people to get in and out.
But they’ve found a way, said Bill Tomcich, president of central reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.
Occupancy in Aspen’s hotels and condominiums only went down between 1 and 4 percentage points from last year, based on a report through July 15.
The only significant drop was July 7, when occupancy was 10 percent down, compared with the same time last year.
“The drop in occupancy has been noticeable,” but not too impactful, Tomcich said.
He lives in the Seven Castles neighborhood near the heart of the fire zone and is on pre-evacuation status.
Tomcich said hotshot crews have been behind his house building a fire line to protect his residence and his neighbors.
“I was feeling a lot more secure on Saturday and then I looked outside and it was Mount St. Helens,” he said, regarding the large fire cloud looming over Basalt Mountain that had many people on edge.
Tomcich said he thought he was being evacuated Saturday afternoon when he heard sirens racing up Frying Pan Road. But he later learned that it was related to the tragic double drowning accident at Ruedi Reservoir.
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An unwelcome but familiar weather pattern in the Aspen-area mountains has created conditions that are once again ripe for avalanches. The early, ample snow in October was followed by dry periods. That resulted in a poor foundation for the snowpack. Steep slopes on north to east aspects pose the greatest threat.