Tenderfoot 2 Fire now 50 percent contained, officials “cautiously optimistic”

Jack Queen
Summit Daily
An air tanker dumps fire retardant slurry onto Tenderfoot2 Fire Tuesday, Sept. 19, in Dillon.
Hugh Carey / |

The winds came with fury on Tuesday, but they were too late to rouse the Tenderfoot 2 Fire near Dillon. By the afternoon, its once-fearsome plume of smoke had reduced to pale wisps, and in the evening fire officials declared it 50 percent contained.

Firefighters and aircraft hammered away at the fire early in the morning when the day was still calm, and their work paid off, keeping the blaze from growing even when the wind howled as fast as 50 miles per hour.

“We had a solid box around the fire before the winds picked up,” U.S. Forest Service incident commander Eric White said Tuesday evening. “We had an incredibly successful day on the fire line today.”

As a rule, fire officials avoid calling fires “out” prematurely; embers can continue smoldering for weeks after the firefighting stops, and smoke from Tenderfoot 2 will likely stick around for several days.

“We’re looking at another day of very high winds and dry weather (Wednesday), so we’re really on our toes,” White cautioned.

But by Tuesday evening the fire looked cowed, if not quite whipped. A red flag wind advisory remained in place until 8 p.m., but hours of gusts throughout the day had failed to fan the flames back to life.

“I’ve been fighting fires for 40 years, and this is how a wildfire needs to be run,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue chief Jeff Berino. “We need to be very proud of ourselves.”

The fire started at around 5 p.m. on Monday right next to U.S. Highway 6. Like the Peak 2 Fire near Breckenridge in July, Monday’s blaze got a healthy dose of air power within hours of igniting.

“When we looked at he values at risk and the risks to firefighter safety, we pretty quickly realized we needed a heavy air attack,” White said.

Before the sun was down, two air tankers had strafed the fire at least half-a-dozen times with flame retardant slurry, and helicopters dropped bucket after bucket of water from Lake Dillon.

“That initial attack went very smoothly, but when we left (Monday) night there was still a lot of heat in that fire, so we knew we needed to continue with air support,” White said.

In the morning, the tankers dropped a few final loads before packing it in, and the helicopters followed later in the afternoon.

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Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire, but it coincided with a power outage in Dillon that lasted as long as two hours in some homes. Incident spokeswoman Tracy LeClair said she was not aware of any additional outages on Tuesday.

Since the blaze also sprang up in the midst of power transmission lines, officials say that what caused the outage could have started the fire as well.

“The fire may have been related to the cause of the outage,” LeClair said. “It’s very possible given the proximity of the fire to the power lines, but investigators still need to go in and figure out the exact origin and work from there,”

The fire was hair-raisingly close not just to power lines but also microwave communications repeaters, a water plant and the Corinthian Hill and Oro Grande neighborhoods. They could be in danger should the fire stir again.

The topography, however, looked favorable from the start, and no neighborhoods were ever placed on pre-evacuation notice. If the fire was going to grow, officials predicted, it would grow uphill and into the wilderness.

The landscape was also fairly accessible for firefighters, although the power lines and patches of standing dead beetle-kill posed safety risks.

The entire Tenderfoot Trail system was closed on Tuesday and likely to remain so until the fire is mostly out and crews have felled some of the burned-up standing snags.

In the late afternoon, crews could be seen in the distance starting the mop-up effort, mostly by extinguishing smoldering patches within the fire zone.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” LeClair said. “Crews have done a really great job and once they come down tonight we’ll have a much better idea of what the percent containment is and what conditions are looking like up there.”

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