Tankers, ground crews battle blaze | AspenTimes.com

Tankers, ground crews battle blaze

Staff and wire reports
Aspen, CO Colorado
An aircraft drops slurry while helping fight a wildfire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., Tuesday, June 19, 2007. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Rj Sangosti) ** THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS OUT **
AP | The Denver Post

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Authorities ordered the evacuation of 60 more homes in western Colorado on Tuesday as a wildfire spread to at least 800 acres and sent white and yellow smoke billowing into the sky.

No structures had burned, but a total of 90 homes had been evacuated since Monday and 110 others were considered threatened. One firefighter suffered a hand injury, said Suzanne Silverthorn, a spokeswoman for fire commanders.

It was not immediately known how many people had left their homes. Three people checked into a school used as a shelter for evacuees in New Castle.

To facilitate the evacuation, Highway 6 was closed from the east end of County Road 240 at mile marker 107 to the Storm King trailhead on Tuesday afternoon. Traffic on Interstate 70 is not impacted.

Crews planned a back burn, a small fire started intentionally to head off the flames of a wildfire. Erratic winds spread the fire Monday afternoon and caused crowning in trees on the east side of a drainage, prompting the additional evacuations.

“It’s been a really scary fire. Its behavior has been bizarre. We’re struggling to get a handle on it,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.

Chuck and Beverly Johnson were packing personal items Tuesday afternoon after being ordered to leave their home in Canyon Creek Estates, just west of Glenwood Springs.

“They said we had to leave. We never did leave during Storm King even though they told us to,” said Chuck Johnson, a retired forester. “We are getting our valuables, paintings and getting out of here. The smoke from the fire is tremendous. The southwest wind is really driving the thing.”

The fire was burning a few miles from the site of the July 1994 Storm King Mountain wildfire that killed 14 firefighters.

Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said the fire was moving east, toward the homes. On Monday, firefighters said the flames were within a half-mile of houses, but Boyd had no new distance on Tuesday.

“It took off” when the wind picked up about 1 p.m., Boyd said, “which was not unexpected.”

A helicopter and five air tankers continued to drop water and slurry on the fire. Approximately 200 responders are on scene and commanders issued a call to Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt for additional fire trucks Tuesday afternoon.

The fire was burning in steep terrain covered with brush pinon pine and juniper trees and dotted with rural subdivisions between New Castle and Glenwood Springs, about 160 miles west of Denver. Containment was listed at zero percent.

A second fire in a remote and rugged area near the town of Cameo, 180 miles west of Denver, had reached 1,000 acres by Tuesday morning but had not grown further by mid-afternoon, BLM spokeswoman Mel Lloyd said. Three aircraft and 75 ground crew members were on scene.

A third blaze was contained Monday night after charring four acres outside the town of Parachute.

All three fires were blamed on lightning strikes Sunday.

At least 165 firefighters, three heavy air tankers, two helicopters, one single-engine tanker and six fire engines were battling the fire near New Castle, and more crews were on the way.

The wind began to pick up Tuesday afternoon, as fire managers feared, and tongues of flame and black smoke were visible within the white plume.

Cathy Lewis, who lives with her husband outside New Castle, watched the smoke and occasional flames from their rented house overlooking the firefighters’ base camp. She said their home in Iowa had burned down six weeks ago.

“This is a little unnerving for me,” Lewis said as she leafed through photo albums salvaged from their Iowa home.

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