Wildfire put down in midvalley between El Jebel and Carbondale; multiple crews responded | AspenTimes.com

Wildfire put down in midvalley between El Jebel and Carbondale; multiple crews responded

A wildland fire erupted at about 1:40 p.m. Wednesday and threatened at least three homes and several outbuildings at mile marker 17 on Old Highway 82 between El Jebel and Catherine Store.

There was no damage to structures or injuries to firefighters or homeowners, according to Carbondale Fire Department.

Firefighters from multiple agencies joined homeowners and a construction company using a trackhoe to attack the flames. The fire broke out in an open meadow to the south of a line of homes along the old highway, now a frontage road. Gusty winds blew thick smoke and flames toward the homes, severely reducing visibility and adding to the chaos.

“This fire was a bit spooky as it was pushed by high winds toward a number of homes,” said Garrett Kennedy, incident commander for Carbondale Fire Department. “We really appreciate our neighboring fire crews for responding so quickly to keep this fire relatively small.”

More than 2 acres was charred. Firefighters from Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, Glenwood Springs and Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control and the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit aided the effort.

Several homeowners could be seen using garden hoses to douse backyard decks as well as brush and grasses as they flames roared to life.

Homeowner Susan Nicholson said she was practicing piano in her house when she noticed smoke billowing up south of her property in the open meadow. She said she knew something wasn’t right.

Homeowner Susan Nicholson douses flames on land adjacent to her backyard Wednesday. A wild land fire broke out and threatened homes along mile marker 17 on Old Highway 82 between El Jebel and Catherine Store. (Scott Condon/The Aspen Times)

As wind gusts blanketed her in smoke and flames edged closer, Nicholson sprayed her property and drenched nearby flames in the brush. It was touch-and-go for a few minutes around 2 p.m. because the wind was blowing embers toward the houses and her backyard. A dry irrigation ditch separated the homes from the open land, but the wind was blowing so briskly that flames threatened to hop the cavity. It was obvious that conditions were tinder dry because bushes suddenly burst into flames and fire ripped through the dead grass.

“What else can happen this spring?” Nicholson said, alluding to the health crisis posed by the coronavirius.

At one point, the flames were headed straight toward a large storage building owned by a local construction firm on the western end of the open meadow. Firefighters could be seen through the thick smoke drenching the ground east of the building.

Winds eased off and firefighters gained the upper hand at about 2:20 p.m. Firefighters spent the afternoon mopping up and said they would patrol the area Wednesday night to watch for flare-ups.

Video courtesy of Maddie Vincent

The fire was reminiscent of the Catherine Store fire that exploded further to the west on April 16, 2008. That fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of people and threatened scores of homes, damaging four and injuring a fisherman who was overcome by flames near Ranch at Roaring Fork. Wednesday’s fire didn’t get as severe but it threatened to.

As they were battling flames, homeowners traded information about the suspected cause of the blaze. They said a neighbor had permission to conduct a controlled burn on a recent day. They wondered if embers could have been whipped up by the wind and ignited the dry vegetation.

The fire department said the cause is under investigation but “it is not believed to be suspicious.”