Officials worried about Glenwood-area wildfire |

Officials worried about Glenwood-area wildfire

Donna Daniels

Attempts by firefighters to keep a wildfire about 10 miles north of Glenwood Springs from spreading out of control were successful yesterday.

The fire, in the Flat Tops area, continued to burn throughout Monday, but was 5 percent contained by nightfall. Firefighters were able to keep the size to about 350 acres, according to fire officials. They are worried, however, that their luck may not last forever.

The South Grizzly Fire, at the head of Grizzly Creek near Coffeepot Springs, was reported at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, when it covered five acres.

“It did a big run yesterday,” said Lynn Kolund, information officer for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Group.

The fire started Sunday afternoon on a heavily-wooded bench at about 10,400 feet, near the confluence of South Grizzly and Grizzly creeks. As the fire hit its stride, it moved around and over the crest of the prominent hill on the bench.

Whole trees caught fire, shooting narrow tongues of flame perhaps 75 to 100 feet into the air, what fire officials call “torching.”

The incident report also said the South Grizzly fire was “spotting,” as burning embers and branches were carried by updrafts and wind as far as one-fourth mile ahead of the fire.

While the fire currently poses no threat to property, it could impact Glenwood Springs’ water supply. Grizzly Creek provides about three million gallons per day.

Public works director Robin Millyard said the city is prepared to shut off the flow if ash from the fire gets into the water. The city’s diversion is about six miles below where the fire is burning.

Two fire crews totaling about 40 people battled the blaze yesterday, as well as one fire engine and a helicopter and helitack crew. Reinforcements will boost the number of firefighters to 100 today.

The two crews are made up of local Bureau of Land Management and White River and Grand Mesa National Forest personnel.

The fire, although small in size compared to two other blazes burning in the area – the 3,200-acre Scanard Fire southwest of Meeker and the 1,500-acre Switchback Fire seven miles east of Rangely – apparently has the Interagency group worried, however.

A Type Two Management Team from New Mexico and Arizona was called out today. That team had been fighting the 17,000-acre fire in Mesa Verde National Park. Another fire, about 950 acres, is also burning at Hovenweep National Monument about 30 miles west of Mesa Verde.

“They’re specialists who are trained to deal with big fires,” Kolund said.

Ten 20-man crews and two helicopters have been requested to fight the South Grizzly Fire, Kolund said. But it is doubtful that they will get the manpower they are requesting, he said. “Resources are really strained right now,” he said.

Their concern is more than understandable. Fire officials still vividly remember the Storm King Mountain wildfire that killed 14 firefighters in Glenwood Springs in 1994.

“Given the fire season, fuel, moisture and the weather, the policy is to suppress all fires,” Kolund said.

The outlook for the fire Monday was grim. According to Kolund, the weather report called for dry lightning during the day from isolated thunderstorms, maximum temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees, and low relative humidity between 10 and 17 percent.

Wind speeds were estimated between 4 mph and 9 mph in the morning, increasing to between 8 mph and 11 mph by midday, and gusting up to 25 mph after 2 p.m.

“This is potential for fire growth,” Kolund said.

Ironically, a fire ban on the White River National Forest was lifted Friday.

“Visitors to the Forest are still encouraged to use caution and exercise good judgment when smoking cigarettes and building campfires,” forest supervisor Martha Ketelle said in a prepared statement Friday. Fireworks are still prohibited, as are prescribed burns. There currently is no major threat to Glenwood Springs’ water supply. City officials are focused more on what happens after the fire is out. The potential is high that a rainstorm would wash ashes into the creek. It’s more of a question of “when, not if,” Millyard said.

The city is allowed to pump five million gallons a day out of the Roaring Fork River, which would cover average daily demand if the Grizzly source is shut off. Average daily water demand is five million gallons a day, but with the hot dry weather demands could go as high as eight or nine million gallons, Millyard said.

Right now the city is taking a wait-and-see attitude. “A whole lot depends on Mother Nature,” he said.

The fire is thought to have been started by lightning, flaring to life after having smoldered for two days or more. No trails or roads pass near the point where the blaze is thought to have started.

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