More manpower brought in to fight Flat Tops fire |

More manpower brought in to fight Flat Tops fire

Heather McGregor

More federal firefighters were expected to arrive last night to join the 250 people already fighting the South Grizzly fire on the Flat Tops, which grew yesterday to more than 500 acres.

Six more 20-man crews will go into action today. Five of the crews were to arrive just after midnight and a sixth crew early this morning. The two Colorado crews who have been battling the blaze since day one will be relieved, and sent down for some much-needed rest.

Federal officials are taking the fire seriously because it’s burning in the Glenwood Springs watershed and in an area with many standing dead trees from a 1950s pine beetle infestation.

The fire grew Tuesday to about 509 acres after being held for almost two days at 360 acres. Crews were able to hold the fire on its west boundary, but it grew slightly on the other three, according to fire information officer Maria T. Garcia.

“The good news is that our current containment has also grown to about 15 percent,” Garcia said.

Sparked Sunday by a lightning strike on a ridge between Grizzly Creek and its south fork, about 11 miles north of Glenwood Springs, the fire has spread into an oblong area along the round-topped ridge.

The lightning hit a saddle at 10,200 feet, and burned 200 feet upward to the west through dark timber and grassy meadows, and plunged downslope toward the south fork and mainstem confluence.

Fire crews contained the westerly nose of the fire with a solid line, and crews worked along the north and south flanks Tuesday to tighten the noose around the blaze.

But the fire was still too volatile to send crews to the east nose of the blaze, the direction in which it’s most likely to spread. “We still have a helicopter on order,” Garcia said. “We’d like to get some water down at that end.”

And the fire continued to burn actively within the 360-acre perimeter, Garcia said.

Embers jumped the southerly fire line in two spots Monday, burning a half-acre area in one spot and a five-acre area in another spot. A helicopter ferrying water from nearby lakes dumped heavily on those spots, Garcia said, and fire crews were mopping up the spot fires Tuesday.

A member of the 30-person New Mexico Incident Management Team, which arrived Monday to take over leadership on the fire, flew over the fire area throughout much of the day to let ground crews know how things looked from the air.

On Tuesday, White River Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle and Forest Service hydrologist Greg Kuyumjian toured the fire area to assess the damage.

Fire crews are not working the usual night shift because of the danger of burned snags toppling over.

“Without a root system, the snags are a lot less stable than a living tree,” said Ketelle. And the snags are spread throughout the burn area, making night shift firefighting hazardous.

High temperatures and high elevations also combined to make dehydration another risk for the fire crews.

Garcia said some of the crews will stay near the fire in a spike camp, while others will make the 90-minute trip down Coffeepot Road to stay at the command center at Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum.

They’ll rotate over the next several nights so everyone gets a chance to take a shower and call relatives.

While the Coffeepot Road is not closed, authorities are discouraging people from using the road. If it’s necessary to travel on the road, motorists are urged to drive slowly with their headlights on, and be prepared for delays.

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