New fire management team takes steps to sooth rattled nerves | AspenTimes.com

New fire management team takes steps to sooth rattled nerves

Members of the Carson Hotshots work the northern edge of the Lake Christine Fire on Wednesday.

The new incident management team on the Lake Christine Fire cut fires lines as a precaution to protect residences in the lower Fryingpan Valley on Friday and sent additional personnel into the northern edge to stunt growth, officials said at a community meeting Friday night.

A fire line was cut upslope from the high density Seven Castles neighborhood, said Rob Berger, operations section chief with the Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team Black. Seven Castles is about 5 miles east of Basalt but closer to the fire's eastern edge as the crow flies.

Another line was cut from the ridge north of Fryingpan Valley down to the river, Berger said.

After that work, the team feels "much better" if the fire works that way, Berger said.

It was obvious that the Black Team is concentrating on soothing rattled nerves of residents after the fire grew from 6,938 to 8,315 acres Wednesday and Thursday. (No information was available Friday night on how much the fire grew during the day.)

Management was transferred from a type 2 to a smaller type 3 team Monday, but the type 2 Black Team was ordered and took control Friday morning. The team made communication with the public a priority after limited updates were available earlier in the week.

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The fire sent a titanic smoke column up Wednesday when it grew by about 800 acres. It made people in Missouri Heights and Basalt concerned about the fire flaring out of control again. The issuance of a pre-evacuation notice for lower Fryingpan Valley through Seven Castles also was unsettling for some people.

"We know that a lot of people still have concerns and we want to address those concerns," Berger said.

Crews with fire engines will patrol Missouri Heights, parts of Basalt and lower Fryingpan from noon to 2 a.m. each day as needed, he said.

One woman in the audience asked who was keeping an eye on the fire after 2 a.m.

"Fires don't burn very much at night, especially during those hours (from 2 a.m. to daybreak)," said incident commander Shane Greer.

Regarding the growth of the fire, Greer said winds blew embers so high from the main fire on a recent day that it triggered a spot fire half a mile away. That spot fire is in heavy timber near the top of the mountain.

Most of the growth is to the northeast, away from Missouri Heights and far north of Fryingpan Valley, according to Greer. The movement to the mountaintop is advantageous because it's out of rocky terrain pocked with cliffs and into more favorable ground.

"It put the fire in more of a place for us to get it," Greer said.

But he warned the possibility of thunderstorms this weekend makes fire behavior difficult to predict. Down draft winds could blow in all directions, he said.

In excess of 100 people attended the meeting. The management team and Eagle County officials provided brief updates, then took audience questions for about 45 minutes. Longtime Basalt area resident Deb Morrison asked an interesting question about how water resources are holding up for helicopter drops. The choppers have dipped into Ace Lane's Kodiak ski lake across from Whole Foods, Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights, Lake Christine and, earlier in the firefighting, the Roaring Fork River.

Greer acknowledged the water supplies are "not very good." They are trying not to deplete water sources because they realize it's a drought year. Dipping out of Ruedi Reservoir with the Chinook helicopters, the largest in the arsenal, is a possibility, Greer said.

The Black Team also is bringing in a mobile batch plant to mix retardant near the fire. Rather than dropping it from tankers, they will use helicopters, which can place it on the ground rather than the tree canopy, Greer explained. That will be most effective.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said he spent Friday with the new team surveying the burn area "figuring out how we can go after this fire as safely as possible but as effectively as possible."

"We hope we can slow things down a little bit with the strategy we have," he said.

Fitzwilliams said after the meeting the strategy could include lighting fire in front of secure lines to rob the wildland fire of fuels.

Fitzwilliams got a laugh from the crowd when he talked about how irritating fires become the longer they burn. The Lake Christine Fire started July 3.

"We get sick of smoke," he said. "The sound of helicopters was cool at first, but not anymore.

"Be patient. We'll get through this," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com