UPDATES: Sylvan Fire now the top priority incident in Rocky Mountain Region
Moisture assists crews efforts, but won’t extinguish blaze that’s torched 3,752 acres
7:30 p.m. update: The Sylvan Fire has been classified the top priority incident in the Rocky Mountain Region as incident commanders hope additional resources will be deployed to the blaze in the days ahead.
During a Friday evening Facebook community meeting, Rob Powell, the operations section chief for the fire, noted that the resources at risk — an Xcel Energy transmission line and the Eagle and Gypsum watersheds — earned the priority designation. And with that title, he said additional resources should be headed to the fight. But with a fiery summer already started, Western resources are starting to thin.
“We need more Hot Shot crews. This is a fire that doesn’t have good engine access,” Powell said. “The rain has bought us some time, but the fire is not out.”
The Sylvan Fire has split into two main branches, Powell said. Crews are attacking one branch along the Eagle Thomasville Road, which will be the primary fire line. Powell noted there are some remaining large pockets of unburned fuels in the area.
While the fire burned down to Sylvan Lake this week, Powell noted that crews launched a direct attack in that area. He said crews worked the fire’s edge using natural features to corral the spread.
“Things are looking really good there. We are making progress,” Powell said.
The other branch of the fire is burning in more troublesome terrain. Accessibility is difficult in the area, located south and east of LEDE Reservoir near Gypsum.
Location: Eagle County, White River National Forest in Sylvan Lake State Park, 16 miles south of Eagle
Size: 3,752 acres
Cause: Suspected lightning, still under investigation
Date of Ignition: June 20 around 3:15 PM
Firefighting Personnel: 200 and counting
“We just don’t have the horsepower to go after this,” Powell said. The current strategy is to employ indirect tactics that will steer the fire toward steep areas where fuels thin out. “We want to help this fire along or be prepared for it,” Powell said.
Along with more than 200 ground crews, four heavy water drop helicopters are working the Sylvan Fire. And yes, Mother Nature is lending a hand with cooler temperatures and rainfall.
But, as Powell noted, record dry conditions are present in the timber around the Sylvan Fire.
“It’s going to take a lot of moisture up there to come close to corralling this fire, and we aren’t there yet,” Powell said. “There is a lot of work to do. We are looking at three to four days before we can secure this fire edge.”
As fire crews dig into the blaze, evacuations and closures have been lifted in some areas near the Sylvan Fire.
As another wave of rainstorms soaked the valley Friday afternoon, Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek announced he modified some of the evacuation orders associated with the Sylvan Fire.
The evacuation orders for the areas of Fulford, Yeoman and Hat Creek have now been downgraded to a pre-evacuation status. Residents in this area should still be prepared to leave the area immediately with little to no notice should evacuation orders be reinstated.
The pre-evacuation orders for Salt Creek, Bruce Creek and Frost Creek have been lifted.
The Hardscrabble area will remain under a mandatory evacuation order and is closed at this time. The Gypsum Creek area remains under a pre-evacuation order.
The Burnt Mountain Road and Woods Lake areas have been downgraded to a pre-evacuation status. Residents in these areas should still be prepared to leave immediately with little to no notice should evacuation orders be reinstated.
But while campers can return to the woods, Leanne Veldhuis of the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest reminded recreationalists that Stage 2 fire regulations have been enacted across the forest.
That means no campfires, even in established campgrounds,” she said.
On Friday, van Beek enacted Stage 2 fire restrictions countywide.
Six days in
As of Friday morning, there was still 0 containment of the Sylvan Fire, which has been burning for five days now, and as of 9 a.m. Friday it had torched 3,752 acres, or nearly 5.86 square miles. The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team took over management of the fire on Thursday.
According to Tracy LeClair, public information officer for the incident management team, the heavy timber fuels around the Sylvan Fire didn’t soak up enough moisture to halt the blaze from spreading as conditions dry out over the next couple of days. That said, though, the moisture did have an impact.
“Basically, the rain helped the crews with what they were working on,” LeClair said.
Heading into Friday, a priority area for the more than 200 firefighters on scene was the fire line along the Eagle Thomasville Road.
“There were some spots that had gone over the road to the east and crews are looking to get a handle on those so if things break out if the wind picks up, we don’t see it spread,” LaClair said.
On Friday, crews and helicopters continued to focus on containing the fire that crossed the road as well as hot spots in the area. Roadside vegetation is being prepped for future burning operations that will provide a barrier to future fire movement across the road. Fire in that area became active yesterday when cloud cover lifted.
“There is also lot of work around Sylvan Lake and the power line road to the west,” LeClair added. “The fire did make it down to Sylvan Lake on the west side yesterday, but campgrounds and structures around the lake were not affected.”
Powell said most of the fire crews are camping out at Sylvan Lake State Park. “They are happy up there. It is great camping,” he said. Future plans include establishing a second base camp at LEDE Reservoir.
“There has been nothing but great hospitality around town,” added Paul Duarte of the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Team. He thanked community members for their support for fire crews.
“We will be here for a little while,” Duarte said.
During Friday’s Facebook community meeting, Van Beek noted there as been some online chatter from drone pilots about scoping out the burn area.
“Do not, do not, do not fly your drones up in the area,” Van Beek said. “You are violating the law and putting lives at risk.”
Temporary flight restrictions are in place over the Sylvan Fire. Wildfires are a no drone zone. If you fly, firefighting resources can’t. Whenever a drone is spotted near the fire, all aircraft are grounded until the drone is clear of the area. For more information, visit https://knowbeforeyoufly.org.
The Friday morning update from Dan Dallas, incident commander for the Sylvan Fire, noted that favorable weather was providing crews with an opportunity make progress toward containment. Five helicopters worked the blaze on Thursday and were scheduled to return to the area on Friday.
“Yesterday’s wet conditions will continue into today, with additional precipitation expected,” Dallas noted in his update.
“We will take the moisture, but we definitely don’t want the lighting,” LeClair added.
Showers will move to the east of the fire by Sunday, but a chance of isolated thunderstorms will remain.
“Next week will bring a warming, drying trend,” the Friday update added. “Heavy fuels remain very dry, especially where protected by tree canopies. With the expected drying trend next week, fuels will dry rapidly, and fire behavior will likely increase accordingly.”
Mount Thomas area
The Friday morning update noted that a portion for the fire has moved south on the Mount Thomas Trail and ridgeline. Crews working this rugged western flank of the fire are looking for opportunities to cut off spread on natural barriers such as slopes, meadows and aspen stands.
In the northwestern part of the fire, firefighters are building direct fire line to secure the fire edge. They are also considering options for improving the primitive road access in the area to provide better firefighter access and safety.
“With the current fire situation in Colorado and throughout the West, it is critical that everyone use extreme caution with fire in the outdoors,” Dallas stated in his Friday update. “Unnecessary human-caused fires make the work of our firefighting forces much harder.”
For the latest information about Sylvan Fire pre-evacuation or evacuation notices or fire restriction on non-Federal lands, visit http://www.ecemergency.org for Eagle County and http://www.pitkinemergency.org for Pitkin County. For the latest on area, road, and trail closures and fire restrictions on National Forest lands, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.
All the info you need
There is a new Facebook page, Sylvan Fire Information, where updates will be provided.
As with all Eagle County emergencies, the community is coming together to support the first responders fighting the Sylvan Fire.
The Eagle Valley Community Foundation is currently rallying resources, including food, for the firefighters as they continue to arrive in Eagle County. As part of its Community Market program, the foundation is supplying snacks and meals for the fighters with the help of local restaurants and the local MIRA bus.
For Friday morning, Grand Avenue Grill is preparing 400 servings of eggs, bacon, fruit and waffles for the firefighters.
The foundation is also putting together a relief fund for the firefighters to help them get the resources they need. Donations can be made at eaglevalleycf.org.
The local Red Cross and Salvation Army are also helping to provide support right now.
Dan Smith, with the Vail Valley Salvation Army, has been on the scene since Sunday in his 4-wheel drive canteen set-up, providing meals on site for the firefighters.
“It’s an art form,” Smith said. “They’ve had a terrible day and we like to be a highlight.”
Friday, Smith and his canteen will be clearing out to allow for other community organizations to provide meals. However, you can continue to support the Vail Valley Salvation Army as they provide require volunteers and resources for future efforts with the fire. Smith also noted that the local Salvation Army is always looking for large commercial kitchens to provide meals during emergencies.
For more information on how to support or volunteer to help the local Salvation Army, call 970-748-0704.
A pre-evacuation order has been issued for Gypsum Creek Road past mile marker 6, Frost Creek, Salt Creek and Bruce Creek.
People in these areas may be asked to evacuate if the fire worsens.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for the areas of Hat Creek, Yeoman State Park, and Fulford.
Those who have immediate needs for relocating livestock should call 970-379-7731. Now is the time to prepare to leave and consider precautionary movement of those with special needs, mobile property and large animals.
Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum may be used as an evacuation center. Both Eagle Valley Middle and Eagle Valley Elementary have been offered up as staging and camp areas for the Forest Service and firefighters.
Hardscrabble Road is completely closed, and the town of Eagle has posted information about fire-related trail closures at TownOfEagle.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=519.
The latest information, including a map of the closure when it is available, will be posted at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7562.
For more information about wildfire smoke visit EPA.gov/smoke-ready-toolbox-wildfires.
Ali Longwell contributed reporting