Lake Christine Fire’s cost estimated at $3.7M; 39 percent contained | AspenTimes.com

Lake Christine Fire’s cost estimated at $3.7M; 39 percent contained

More families were able to move back home Monday night, as the evacuation order for the Lake Christine Fire was lifted for residences in the Missouri Heights neighborhood east of Upper Cattle Creek Road.

"I'm thrilled," said attorney and Blue Creek resident Jody Edwards, who learned the news at Monday's community meeting at Basalt High School.

Edwards, who has been evacuated since Wednesday, was in one of about 10 residences who were displaced by the mandatory evacuation order.

"These guys have done a fantastic job," Edwards said, adding he's grateful for the firefighters and law enforcement for handling the operation so well. "Safety was their No. 1 concern."

About 20 homes off of Frying Pan Road from Pinon to Cedar Road remain under mandatory evacuation.

Keith Brink, operations section chief for the fire, said it's too dangerous in that area because power lines are still on fire. Crews are working around the clock with the power company.

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"Those guys are working their tails off to get those transformers up and running," he said Monday. "We can't safely get people in there until we can get our guys in there."

El Jebel Road leading to Missouri Heights also opened Monday.

The fire grew 200 acres from Sunday to Monday. As of Monday evening it was estimated at 6,100 acres, or nearly 9.5 square miles, according to the interagency Northern Rockies Incident Management Team.

The fire is considered 39 percent contained and officials hope to be at 45 percent or more today.

Brink said seven crews — about 200 firefighters — were reassigned Monday to other fires in the region.

"We wanted to fit the personnel with our objective," Brink said of "right sizing" the team for the blaze. Around 350 firefighters remain on scene.

The Lake Christine Fire started July 3 after two individuals allegedly shot tracer rounds at the shooting range in Basalt. The El Jebel residents have been charged with felonies.

Officials with the incident team estimate that the fire has cost $3.7 million as of Monday. Three homes were lost in the blaze, estimated to be $2.65 million in property value.

Most of the fire's growth is in the northern end — heading away from developed areas and the dark timber of Basalt Mountain. The blaze is in uncontrolled and steep, rugged terrain. It is likely to continue to spread in that direction "for some time," according to the management team.

The south end of the fire, near the most populated areas, has been contained for the most part. Brink explained that crews are being systematic along that edge to make sure all hot spots have been put out.

Meanwhile, commercial airlines using Aspen-Pitkin County Airport are on temporary flight restrictions so crews can attack the fire from the air.

Beginning today, commercial flights can take off but cannot land, based on flight patterns. While firefighting crews are battling the blaze from the air, which begins in the morning and suspends in the in the evening every day, commercial flights are allowed to depart and arrive. That means commercial flight activity in both directions is happening from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and then again from 9:15 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Deputy Incident Commander Roger Staats said his agency, along with the Federal Aviation Administration and airport director John Kinney, are devising a plan that should allow for getting aircraft in and out soon.

Private aircraft are allowed to fly because they are under fewer restrictions; pilots can rely on visual approaches rather than instrumental.

Staats said the forecast calls for some moisture later this week, which will help tame the blaze.

"Things are looking a lot better," he said.

csackariason@aspentimes.com