Wildfire crews brace for more winds | AspenTimes.com

Wildfire crews brace for more winds

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Crews battling a 1,000-acre wildfire in western Colorado braced for afternoon winds and a possible thunderstorm Wednesday that could whip up the flames for a third straight day.

Earlier in the day, they took advantage of calm winds and higher humidity to extend containment lines part way around the fire, which has forced the evacuation of 90 homes in Canyon Creek, west of Glenwood Springs.

Crews set a small, controlled fire called a back burn between the wildfire and scores of houses to eat up vegetation that could otherwise fuel runaway flames, Garfield County sheriff’s spokeswoman Tanny McGinnis said.

“It (the back burn) did exactly what we intended for it to do,” McGinnis said. “The only issue is, there’s no way to predict what will happen with the winds.”

Erratic afternoon winds have been a problem on the fire, which was burning on steep inclines and through highly flammable Gambel oak, pinon pine and juniper trees east of New Castle and west of Glenwood Sprngs, about 160 miles west of Denver

Residents of another 110 homes were advised to evacuate but had not been ordered to. No structures had burned, although some were within a half-mile of the flames.

The fire was at least 15 percent contained.

About 200 ground firefighters, two heavy air tankers, two single-engine planes and four helicopters were on the scene. One firefighter injured his hand and another suffered heat exhaustion.

Firefighting costs reached $650,000 Wednesday, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.

Electricity was cut to some homes in the fire area to reduce the danger of power lines starting another fire, falling on firefighters or entangling low-flying firefighting aircraft.

About 2,500 bicyclists rolled into Glenwood Springs Wednesday on the Ride the Rockies tour. The fire brought back somber memories for one, Peg Gibson of Denver. She said her brother was burned and five of his colleagues were killed when he was working as a hotshot firefighter in the 1970s.

“I’m thinking about the young people fighting the fire,” said Gibson, 57. “It’s been a reflective time.”

The flames were not far from the scene of two previous fires that left deep physical and emotional scars.

The 1994 Storm King Mountain fire killed 14 elite firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames. In 2002, a long-smoldering fire along an underground coal seam ignited vegetation on the surface, forcing evacuations.

About 20 miles west of the New Castle fire, a second blaze had charred more than 1,000 remote and rugged acres by Wednesday. It was 80 percent contained, and crews expected to have it fully encircled later in the day.

A third blaze was contained Monday night after charring four acres near houses and natural gas wells outside the town of Parachute, west of Rifle.

All three fires were blamed on lightning strikes Sunday.

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