Eagle County chiefs watching Boulder-area wildfire | VailDaily.com

Eagle County chiefs watching Boulder-area wildfire

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Bill Johnson said Wednesday was a good day to fight a wildfire.

Johnson, an Eagle resident, was asked to join the growing team fighting a destructive wildfire in Boulder County and is working as a safety officer.

“I’m another set of eyes out here to find dangers besides the obvious ones. I go around to make sure teams have their spotters in place and the communications are all working.”

Johnson said Wednesday’s weather – with cooler temperatures, lower wind speeds and rain in the forecast – had kept the “Fourmile fire” somewhat in check.

But U.S. Forest Service officials said Wednesday afternoon that it could take another 10 days to get the blaze under control. As of Wednesday afternoon, The Denver Post reported the fire in the mountains west of Boulder had scorched 6,388 acres and destroyed at least 140 buildings, more than 50 of which are homes. At least another 24 were reported to be damaged.

The fire was being fought by 550 people Wednesday, and U.S. Forest Service officials said another 200 firefighters would be added to the effort Thursday.

The fire has local officials waiting and wary. They’re waiting to see if a call goes out for crews from their departments.

Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said he expects to get a call for help soon, and said he has his department’s wildland fire truck and crew geared up and ready to go.

As of Wednesday, though, that call hadn’t come, perhaps due to similarly dry conditions on the Western Slope.

Charles Moore, chief of the Avon-based Eagle River Fire Protection District, said a fire can quickly eat up more manpower than his department can provide.

“We have between 17 and 19 firefighters on duty every day,” Moore said. “If a fire gets beyond five acres, we’re overwhelmed.”

The chiefs’ wariness comes because fall may be the most dangerous wildfire season.

“I worry more about the fall than the summer,” Moore said. “The summer monsoons go away, the wind picks up and there isn’t much moisture until the snow falls.”

Jon Asper, chief of the Eagle-based Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, said he also worries about hunters going into dried-out wildlands.

“You get amateurs out there and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Asper said.

The local fire chiefs agreed that the valley so far has been “very, very, very fortunate,” in Asper’s opinion, to have so far avoided a major wildfire as long as it has.

“But it’s really a matter of when, not if,” Asper added.

Local fire departments have put a lot of time, manpower and money into helping residents protect their homes by encouraging them to create “defensible space” around their homes. That means trimming branches away from homes, replacing wooden shingles and other strategies.

Moore said Cordillera has provided a model for creating a more fire-safe neighborhood.

“They’ve spent millions over the last few years to clean out all the dead stuff,” he said. “They’ve really done it right.”

Beyond defensible space, the chiefs also urged people living in wooded areas to have a plan ready in case they need to evacuate. Those plans include having family heirlooms and important documents in ready-to-throw-in-the-car containers, having a pre-arranged meeting spot and notifying firefighters about pets and animals at a home.

Beyond that, though, Miller said residents in wooded areas need to think in more basic terms.

“People really need to remember to take some clothes with them if they evacuate,” he said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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