Ptarmigan Fire evacuations lifted, officials urge residents to remain alert
The Hamilton Creek and Angler Mountain Ranch neighborhoods will join others in pre-evacuation status
The evacuees are headed home.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons announced during a community update at Silverthorne Town Hall Wednesday night, Sept. 29, that residents in the Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain Ranch neighborhoods would be allowed to return to their homes at 10 a.m. Thursday morning, Sept. 30.
“This change is based on ground and aerial assessments of the fire activity as well as the work firefighters were able to complete on the ground Wednesday,” FitzSimons said. “While the Ptarmigan Fire still poses a risk, (I) and the fire officials do not feel the risk warrants keeping people out of their homes provided they remain alert and ready to evacuate on short notice should conditions change.”
The wildfire ignited Monday afternoon, Sept. 27, on U.S. Forest Service land northeast of Silverthorne, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the area. Thanks to the diligent efforts of firefighters, law enforcement and other community partners — along with Mother Nature, who provided quite a bit of precipitation over the past couple days — Wednesday night will be the last that evacuees spend on hotel beds and neighbors’ couches — at least for now.
The Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain neighborhoods will be downgraded to pre-evacuation status along with residents in the South Forty neighborhood; Angler Mountain neighborhood on Bald Eagle Road, Fly Line Drive and below; and residents east and uphill of Summit County Road 2020 and north of Summit County Road 2021. Residents must still be credentialed at the Silverthorne Town Hall in order to return home, FitzSimons said.
The announcement came just hours after FitzSimons said residents likely wouldn’t be able to return home for another 48 to 72 hours. But by the end of the day, fire managers felt the western edge of the blaze above the residential areas was “looking quite good” and that it was finally safe enough for ground crews to begin engaging the wildfire in earnest.
Incident Commander Eric White said he started the day taking a helicopter trip over the fire and that crews on the ground were able to walk around the fire’s entire perimeter. Officials believe the fire is still about 85 acres large.
“After doing that we were able to determine that we can, in fact, engage firefighters directly onto the fire line,” White said. “That’s not to say there’s not a risk to firefighters. The risk is still there, it’s just not quite as much as we thought. What that means is we’re going to get in (and) we’re going to continue to engage, but it’s going to be a slow process.”
On Wednesday, White said firefighters were able to cold trail — dragging their hands through burned areas to ensure there was no heat — from the southern heel up the western flank of the fire. He said they were able to remove a significant amount of fuels from the area, as well.
White said in the coming days, firefighters — and helicopters when necessary — would continue to build containment lines along the western portion of the fire perimeter. Once completed, they’ll move to the northern end of the perimeter. He said he expects firefighting operations to continue for a couple more weeks in the area.
Officials noted that despite the good news, the fire is very much still active. They asked residents returning to the area to keep to their homes and out of firefighters’ way, and to stay prepared in case there are any further evacuations.
“I’m not saying that all risk, all potential for further evacuation or anything of that nature is out of the question, but we’re feeling pretty comfortable that we’re not going to be there,” White said. “So we do ask that you remain alert. Remain ready to go just in the event that something unforeseen happens.”
It’s unclear when the pre-evacuation notices will be lifted or when residents in Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain Ranch will be able to access the area without credentials. FitzSimons said officials would continue to evaluate conditions on a daily basis.
“We reassess and reevaluate this every day,” FitzSimons said. “So it will be in place until we find it safe to either start lifting the pre-evac notices or lifting the closure of the area. So it’s a day-by-day thing.”
FitzSimons also announced that Wednesday night’s community briefing would be the last, canceling future meetings unless fire conditions change.
Evacuated residents were able to briefly return to their homes Wednesday morning to collect belongings they may have left behind during their rush out of the neighborhood. Evacuees said they were thankful for the opportunity and for the community members who stepped up to offer aid over the past few days.
“The best part of this whole thing is we’ve had about 20 different people offer us a place to stay, which shows the quality of life in Summit County that people are so supportive of others,” Hamilton Creek resident Mike Kramer said. “… The people we’re staying with have helped out tremendously with support in feeding us and giving us a place to sleep, and things are going really well for us.”
It’s undoubtedly been a long few days for residents of the Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain neighborhoods, along with the myriad community members under a pre-evacuation notice looking on to see if they would be the next forced out of their homes.
Now, residents are breathing a little easier knowing they’ll be spending Thursday night in their own beds and that their homes are safe.
For some, there was never any doubt.
“We knew that we would get back, and we knew these people would take care of us,” Angler Mountain resident John Preckshot said. “And they did.”
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