As containment approaches 50 percent, Grizzly Creek Fire gets new management
In his final address to those following the Grizzly Creek Fire, Jeff Surber with the Great Basin Incident Management Team said there has been much success containing the fire in recent days.
Surber and the Great Basin team facilitated a routine transfer of management on the fire to the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team on Tuesday; Surber said as that team takes command on Wednesday, they expect containment levels will be near 50%.
The Grizzly Creek Fire, which started August 10 and has burned 32,060 acres, now appears to be “in mighty good shape,” Alaska team Incident Commander Tom Kurth told the community in a Facebook live broadcast on Tuesday.
“Our job is to organize the nearly 800 individuals here, and then we build them into a daily plan, keep them and you safe, protect your homes and community, your utility infrastructure, keep the roads and highways open, assist initial attack, and then build upon the work that this Great Basin team has left us with,” Kurth said.
The Great Basin team “has built certain expectations here,” Kurth added. “Work-wise, information-wise, and certainly working with cooperators here. So if we overlook something, let us know and we’ll provide corrective behavior here.”
Dangerous areas remain
Surber said as the Alaska team attempts to wrap up the fire, challenges could occur in containing certain areas where the risk of standing dead trees, or snags, make it dangerous for firefighters to fight the fire on the ground. The Great Basin team has set up alternative plans to deal with those areas.
“We’re kind of letting things take their own course in there, keeping people watching it, so if it tries to escape, we can jump on it and take action,” Surber said.
For these areas, where wildfires can smolder for weeks before popping up again, Surber offered a warning.
“My understanding is they’ve had fires here that they’ve considered contained, or that they’ve pretty much laid down for a month, and then the fuel continues to dry out into September or even October, and an edge like that will have one tree fall over and then what happens is that fuel that’s not ready to burn now — we can’t light it on fire because there’s just enough fuel moisture not to carry fire well, but in another month, if you don’t get rain, it will burn readily.”
Surber said a pre-constructed contingency fire line further up the slope, from where fighters can keep tabs on the snag-heavy areas, will prove helpful in those areas in the coming weeks.
“It’s a watching game,” Surber said. “Or, if you get to the point where you have a big wind storm — 50 mile-per-hour winds — and everything blows down, and they start feeling comfortable that the weak trees all blew over already, they might walk in there.”
Surber said rain could also affect the outcome of certain areas of the fire in the days to come.
While the fire burned on the west side of Eagle County on Tuesday, the east side of the county enjoyed downpour conditions for about an hour.
Meteorologist Kris Sanders with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said similar rainstorms could pop up over the next few days, but areas of higher elevation than the Grizzly Creek Fire are likely to see more rain.
“We’ve had a lot of moisture, some of this high pressure that’s been meandering around the Four Corners region, so we just happened to be in a good fetch over the past couple of days, where moisture has been moving into the area,” said Kris Sanders with the National Weather Service.
The storms have been accompanied by lightning, which has created spot fires in the area in recent days. The most recent suspected lightning fire occurred on Tuesday northeast of Rifle, said White River National Forest Deputy Forest Supervisor Lisa Stoeffler.
Stoeffler said the new fire is roughly 5 to 10 acres in size.
“We have ground crews on it, and helicopters on it, and expect that they are going to pay attention to that through the evening,” she said. “We’ll chase after those lightning fires as they pop up, and use the team as available to help us with that.”
Stoeffler also urged locals and visitors to be extra cautious with fire.
“Things are tinder dry and resources are stretched way too tight to be dealing with another fire,” she said.