Firefighters take the upper hand in De Beque blaze
Ryan Summerlin June 30, 2012
De BEQUE, Colo. – Favorable weather on Friday gave firefighters an advantage in tackling a wildfire southwest of De Beque. Little new acreage burned, even though the day dished out continued high temperatures and winds of 20 mph.
“Today it’s looking good. It’s nothing like what we had [Thursday],” said Kate Porras, spokeswoman for the Pine Ridge fire, in a phone interview Friday evening.
Fire officials conducted an aerial survey of the Pine Ridge fire early Friday to measure and map the extent of the blow-up that occurred Thursday afternoon.
Pushed by strong winds, the fire southwest of De Beque grew from 1,500 acres Thursday morning to 12,000 acres by nightfall, Porras said.
The fire spread to the east, dropping down into the Colorado River Canyon and burning out to several islands in the river. But it did not cross Interstate 70, and firefighters now hope to keep it contained on the north side of the river and highway.
“That’s the primary focus,” Porras said. “We don’t want it to jump I-70. The river acted somewhat as a fire break, and we’re monitoring it to make sure.”
On Thursday, the fire also pushed northward toward the town of De Beque, where residents remain on a pre-evacuation order.
By Friday morning, firefighters had successfully conducted a burnout along the northeast flank of the fire, creating a fire break between the active area of the blaze and the town.
Crews also built on their overnight success on Friday by containing more of the westernmost portion of the fire near its origin, referred to as the fire’s heel. Firefighters hope to advance on those footholds today, said fire spokesman Christopher Joyner.
Crews flying two air tankers from Saskatchewan dropped fire retardant Friday, with aid from a spotter airplane owned by the Canadian government. A total of four air tankers provided support to firefighters on Friday, Joyner said.
About 50 residences in a rural area between I-70 and 45.5 Road were evacuated Thursday and are not yet being allowed to return to their homes and ranches.
The Daily Sentinel reported Friday that three structures burned on the Mustang Ranch, a subdivided property in the area of the fire’s start. Skye Sieber said the structures were not homes, but rather campers, canvas tents or tepees.
Interstate 70 was closed Thursday around 6:30 p.m. as the fire pounded De Beque Canyon, but reopened to traffic early Friday morning. It is expected to remain open, although a shift in fire behavior could force motorists to use the De Beque Cutoff and Highway 65 as a lengthy detour, Porras said.
“If the fire jumps the highway, if smoke gets heavy or if we have to bring in personnel or equipment to fight the fire, we’ll redirect traffic through the De Beque Cutoff,” she said.
The Daily Sentinel also reported that Union Pacific freight trains and Amtrak passenger trains traveling between Salt Lake City and Denver are being re-routed through Wyoming for the time being.
Railroad officials were concerned that smoke from the fire would be a health hazard for train crews and passengers, and could pose problems for the train engines.
On Friday, 150 firefighters tackled the fire and reached 10 percent containment by late afternoon, Porras said.
More fire crews were on their way to the fire Friday and were expected to work through the night. An infrared analysis overnight is also expected to reveal a new total for fire acreage.
A Type I incident command team is slated to take over fire management Saturday. The team is led by Bill Hahnenberg, the Type I incident commander who led the initial attack for the first two weeks of the High Park fire west of Fort Collins.