Residents are able to return to homes |

Residents are able to return to homes

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The mandatory evacuation order was lifted last night in much of Glenwood Springs after officials determined conditions had changed enough to allow people to return safely to their homes.

Barricades blocking access to five neighborhoods – West Glenwood Springs, North Glenwood Springs, No Name Creek, Four Mile Creek and Red Mountain – were lifted beginning at 8 p.m.

The decision, made by local, state and federal officials battling the three-day-old Coal Seam fire, means more than 90 percent of the 3,000 or so people ordered to abandon their homes over the weekend can now return home.

The announcement, made last night at a public briefing, drew cheers and applause from the 150 to 200 people in attendance. But officials on hand Monday night continued to advise residents against moving back into their houses, at least for the time being.

“We’re not recommending you return to your house, we’re not suggesting you return to your house – it’s your call,” Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri said. “It’s your responsibility to act responsibly and make your choice wisely about whether to return.”

Dalessandri estimated that between 300 and 500 people living in the Mountain Spring Ranch, South Canyon and Four Mile Creek areas continue to live under the evacuation order.

A spokesman for the fire-fighting team said the fire had grown to an estimated 10,000 acres by the end of the day yesterday. Over 480 firefighters engaged the blaze Monday, achieving 5 percent containment. The equipment used in the fight included 68 fire engines, five air tankers, one helicopter and five bulldozers.

The sharply worded announcement released by fire officials warned residents that the fires may flare up again and force them to leave their homes once again.

“Fire behavior and weather conditions remain dangerous,” the announcement warned. And people moving back into areas close to active fires were cautioned to expect spot fires, including sudden ignition of trees and brush, and heavy smoke.

It also asked them not to freeze up the 911 emergency communication system with calls reporting spot fires and flare-ups that are part of the normal course of any wildfire.

Fire officials asked residents not to water outside anymore than necessary, because crews may need the water if the fire returns to the area.

Electricity has been restored to most of the evacuated areas, although many will remain without natural-gas service until crews from Kinder Morgan have a chance to restore service on a home-by-home basis.

One resident who said he had no intention of returning home last night was state Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs. Rippy and his family live near Mitchell Creek, where several homes burned down. Rippy said he planned to visit after the briefing to feed his cats, but then was going to return to his father’s house in a safer area of town.

“Remember,” the announcement said in conclusion, “this fire is still active and not contained. It can still present a danger to any of the areas that have been evacuated over the last few days. If what you see from your home causes you serious concern, we encourage you to relocate.”

By the end of the day, the Coal Seam fire was no longer the top priority of state and federal officials, however. That designation belonged to the Hayman fire on the Front Range southwest of Denver, which had reportedly grown to more than 70,000 acres and was threatening the homes of more 40,000 people last night.

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