Tuesday updates: Ptarmigan Fire
Editor’s note: This story is no longer being updated.
7:19 p.m. The Ptarmigan Fire has grown to between 85 and 100 acres, according to an update provided by officials at Silverthorne Town Hall Tuesday evening, Sept. 28.
Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said overall, it was a good day for fire managers and the community at large, as the fire’s growth was primarily to the north and east away from residential areas to the southwest.
“We really focused our efforts on the western flank and the south heel of the fire,” Bianchi said. “We really were concentrating to make sure that the fire was not moving down into the subdivision. You can see there that we were successful.”
While rain did provide some help in quelling the blaze Tuesday afternoon, Bianchi said it also grounded aircraft working to build containment. Officials are hoping to attack the fire with aircraft again Wednesday, Sept. 29, before more precipitation moves into the area.
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“It is looking like precipitation will not be coming until … midafternoon or so (Wednesday),” Bianchi said. “So that will give us all morning to hit it hard again with the same air resources that we had today.”
Crews on the ground have yet to engage with the fire or build any containment, due mostly to dangerous conditions related to “snags” like dead trees that could fall on firefighters, according to Incident Commander Eric White.
Summit Fire & EMS Public Information Officer Steve Lipsher said it was too early to determine a cause for the fire.
Bianchi said firefighters and engines would remain on scene overnight to monitor the fire and to protect homes in the area if necessary.
6:30 p.m. Eric White, Type 3 incident management team commander, reported that there is no containment on the fire.
Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher directed community members who wish to donate food to the American Red Cross and the Family and Intercultural Resource Center. He noted that firefighters are provided with food.
6:22 p.m. Officials provided an update at Silverthorne Town Hall Tuesday evening. The Ptarmigan Fire acreage has grown to between 85-100 acres. A total of 536 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders or pre-evacuation orders.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said evacuated Angler Mountain and Hamilton Creek residents will have a window from 8-10 a.m. to return home on Wednesday, Sept. 29. Residents who wish to return home during this window must get a credential at Silverthorne Town Hall. Credentials are being offered until 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28 and starting at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
FitzSimons said officials will continue to look for opportunities for evacuated residents to return home temporarily to retrieve forgotten items.
3:52 p.m. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has issued a new pre-evacuation notice for homes east and uphill of Summit County Road 2020 and north of Summit County Road 2021. The pre-evacuation notice includes Daley Ranch.
Residents in the area should be prepared to leave. Here’s what to pack.
A new PRE-EVACUATION notice has been issued for County Rd. 2020, east and uphill of County Rd. 2020, and north of County Rd. 2021 to include Daley Ranch due to wildfire activity. Be ready to leave for a safe destination outside the hazard area. #PtarmiganFire pic.twitter.com/CKql91j8RM
— SCSOPIO (@SummitSheriffCO) September 28, 2021
3:05 p.m. Rainfall over the Silverthorne area has helped to moderate fire behavior, but it also grounded aircraft working to contain the blaze, according to the most recent update from the U.S. Forest Service.
The fire has grown to an estimated 83 acres in size.
2:11 p.m. It began raining in Summit County at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28. According to the National Weather Service’s Silverthorne forecast, showers are likely through Tuesday night. Chances for rain and snow are in the forecast through the weekend. Officials are hoping the precipitation will help firefighting efforts.
The next public update meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Silverthorne Town Hall.
12:45 p.m. Officials provided an update on the Ptarmigan Fire at Silverthorne Town Hall this morning.
Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said the fire grew about 40 acres overnight and is currently around 60 acres based on mapping from an aircraft mission Monday and early estimates Tuesday morning.
“We saw a lot of fire activity over the night, which, with temperatures dropping, it was a little surprise to us to see a lot of the torching that we saw,” Bianchi said. “And a lot especially in some of those aspen stands, as well. So it was a little unprecedented.”
Bianchi said the cause of the fire was still unknown, but he noted that it started in an area near a trail, suggesting it may have been human caused.
Bianchi said there was currently a significant aircraft response taking place, including a large air tanker dropping retardant along the perimeter of the blaze. He said firefighters would tie containment lines into the Ptarmigan Trail, and drop as much retardant as possible on the west and south sides of the fire.
“That is the critical spot for us,” Bianchi said. “We don’t want it to continue to move downhill into the housing development where our structures are at. So we’re really trying to work on this flank. The great thing about it is that is predominantly where a lot of the aspen is. We’ve got some grass and sage. So it is an area where we can start to engage the fire a little more aggressively.”
Bianchi said there were currently two 20-person hand crews in route in addition to a seven-person ground crew currently helping to direct air resources.
Officials are also hoping rain forecast this afternoon and over the coming days will help firefighting efforts.
“Looking into the next couple days, that’s really going to be our goal, we’re going to (shore) up some of these spot fires,” Bianchi said. “… The column kind of laid down to the north last night and caused some of these spot fires, and so we’re really going to look at those and try to (shore) up those as well to make sure those don’t continue to grow and push the fire further north. We’re looking at additional precipitation in the next couple days, as well, so we’re really looking forward to utilizing the weather to help us fight this along with air resources and the ground resources that are coming.”
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said a total of about 617 homes in the Hamilton Creek, Angler Mountain and South Forty neighborhoods are currently under either an evacuation order or pre-evacuation notice. The homes are valued at an estimated $400 million, FitzSimons said.
He went on to provide some additional insight into the decision to issue a mandatory evacuation order in the upper Angler Mountain neighborhood Tuesday morning.
“With the incoming storm and the winds changing direction … we just want to be prudent and proactive and obviously precautionary,” FitzSimons said. “It’s easier to move people out of these neighborhoods, like we did last night, while things are like this rather than a last-minute panic. So we ask for a little bit of grace. We ask for your patience.”
FitzSimons said he and other fire managers will continue to look for opportunities to allow evacuated residents back to into their homes temporarily. County staff members are currently credentialing evacuees at Silverthorne Town Hall so that, when allowed, officials can keep track of who returns to the evacuation zone and to ensure everyone makes it back out. Residents will not be allowed to return to their homes without being issued credentials.
Both FitzSimons and Bianchi also spoke to the importance of keeping drones out of the area.
“If (the Forest Service) has aircraft in the air and a drone flies up in the air, they’ve got to immediately ground all those aircraft,” FitzSimons said. “So if we ground all the aircraft, we’re not able to fight the fire because it is not safe at this point to put ground crews in the area. … I do have federal law enforcement partners … that will find these people flying drones, and they will go after them.”
Commissioner Josh Blanchard urged everyone to respond appropriately to evacuation and pre-evacuation orders.
“If you’re given that evacuation notice, we need you to leave immediately and safely,” Blanchard said. “Make sure that you have your credentials and the recommended items that you have with you.”
Blanchard also thanked community members who have reached out to offer support to evacuees and the numerous mutual-aid responders from neighboring communities.
“We know that Summit County is special,” Blanchard said. “We know that our mountain community pulls together to support one another in times of need in ways that are truly unique. … We will get through this together.”
11:35 a.m. The cause of the fire is under investigation. Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi noted that the fire started along a trail, hinting that it was likely human caused.
11:30 a.m. A public information hotline has been set up at 970-668-9700.
11:29 a.m. All evacuation and pre-evacuation areas total 617 homes, valued at $400 million, according to Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. As a reminder, the Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain neighborhoods are under mandatory evacuation orders. Residents on Bald Eagle Road, Fly Line Drive and below are currently under a pre-evacuation notice along with the South Forty neighborhood.
11:27 a.m. The fire is estimated at about 57 acres today, after growing about 40 acres overnight, according to Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi, who called the estimation a ballpark. He said the size of the fire was confirmed at 17 acres at 10 p.m. Monday, smaller than officials initially guessed. Bianchi said officials were surprised by the overnight growth.
11 a.m. Live update is set to start any minute at Silverthorne Town Hall, 601 Center Circle. Watch in English and Spanish at Facebook.com/summitdailynews.
10:31 a.m. The Summit County Office of Emergency Management has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the upper Angler Mountain neighborhood. Residents on Bald Eagle Road, Fly Line Drive and below are currently under a pre-evacuation notice.
The mandatory evacuation order of the Hamilton Creek neighborhood will remain in place Tuesday, Sept. 28, while firefighters and aircraft work to contain the Ptarmigan Fire burning on U.S. Forest Service land near Silverthorne.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said Tuesday morning that the fire grew overnight, but he couldn’t provide an updated acreage. The latest update from the U.S. Forest Service on Monday night estimated that the fire was between 30 and 40 acres.
FitzSimons said the fire hasn’t reached any homes.
“It’s continuing to creep toward Hamilton Creek,” FitzSimons said. “It’s actually really odd; it’s creeping both north and south, so it’s not going east up and over.”
Pre-evacuation orders remain in place in the Angler Mountain Ranch and South Forty neighborhoods. FitzSimons said a pre-evacuation order has also been issued for Silverthorne Elementary School, though the school will operate as usual for now.
Officials have ordered a considerable amount of resources to combat the fire Tuesday, including three large air tankers, two single-engine air tankers, three helicopters and four hand crews. FitzSimons said officials believe it is still too dangerous for crews on the ground to engage the blaze, and firefighting operations will be primarily conducted through the air Tuesday. There are resources on the ground ready to step in if the fire continues to move toward residential areas.
“The public can expect quite the air show,” FitzSimons said. “… There is structure protection staged in those neighborhoods. There are six engines assigned to nothing but protecting homes.”
Officials will host two public meetings at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday at Silverthorne Town Hall to provide updates for community members.
FitzSimons said there will also be an opportunity for residents in the Hamilton Creek neighborhood to temporarily return to their homes to pick up any important items they may have left behind while evacuating. When that will happen has yet to be determined. Once a time is set, evacuees will be required to visit Silverthorne Town Hall to be credentialed before making their way to the road closure point at the bottom of Hamilton Creek neighborhood.
Officials are asking community members to stay out of the area whenever possible so that roads are clear of traffic for police and firefighting resources. FitzSimons also urged residents with drones to keep them grounded so they don’t interfere with other aircraft working to contain the fire.
“We’re having a real problem with drones,” he said. “It’s illegal to fly drones over wildfires, and if drones are in the air, we can’t fly.”
Recreational trails in the area remain closed to the public.
Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.