Firefighters take steps to ‘speed up’ Lake Christine wildfire suppression effort
The Aspen Times
The federal firefighting team has brought in large helicopters, bulldozers and logging equipment to try to “speed up” containment of the Lake Christine Fire.
Shane Greer, the incident commander of Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team Black, said the team’s goal is to have the fire out by the time they must rotate off duty after 14 days on the fire. As of Wednesday, July 25, they have been on duty for six days. The team’s 14th day will be Aug. 2.
Greer said at a community meeting at Basalt High School he has also requested the return of two hotshot crews — ground forces with special skills — who were taken off the fire for a mandatory break after so many days. He said he is uncertain if they will be assigned back to the Lake Christine Fire or sent somewhere in the West deemed a higher priority.
The Lake Christine Fire grew to 11,990 aces as of Wednesday night. It remains at 39 percent contained, but Greer said the containment figure should grow after assessments are made Wednesday night.
Significant progress was made Tuesday when five heavy and two light helicopters combined to dump 19,000 gallons of retardant on the fire perimeter, according to Rob Berger, operations section chief. He expected a similar amount was dumped Wednesday. It was unknown how much water was dropped separately from the retardant.
A heli-base was created in Missouri Heights to reduce the travel time to and from Rifle, where they are stationed.
“You may have noticed there’s more of them, they’re larger and they make a lot more noise,” Greer said of the recent arrivals of helicopters.
‘Until we get there’
The team also is using a mobile batch plant to produce retardant in Missouri Heights.
The retardant was used on the east side of the fire to prevent it from spreading to the heavy timber of Red Table Mountain until ground crews can get into the rugged, inaccessible terrain. Winds in excess of 20 mph from the west and northwest are expected Saturday and Sunday.
Greer said the retardant “will hold it until we get there.”
Following are other tidbits from Wednesday:
The air-quality adviser for Team Black said the heavy smoke is being generated on the north side of the fire each day. At night it snakes down drainages in Missouri Heights and by morning fills the valley floor in El Jebel and toward Basalt.
“The levels are high for a short time in the morning, then it passes,” John Cook said.
Residents of the El Jebel area have noticed that helicopters have made continuous dips into Kodiak Lake, a ski lake owned and operated by Ace Lane, throughout the firefighting effort. The lake is replenished by Robinson Ditch, according to Dave Marrs, who works with Lane on business issues.
“Ace has agreed to the water dips as a benefit to the community at-large and is not seeking any compensation,” Marrs said.
Team Black is installing two mobile weather monitors within the burn area to measure precipitation. That will enable alerts to be issued if heavy rainfall occurs and has the potential to create flash flooding and debris flows.
Eagle County has estimated 670 properties in the El Jebel and Basalt areas are potentially at risk from flash flooding based on proximity to drainages that historically run. The risk of floods and mudslides will be enhanced by water coming off the burn area. The addresses of the properties are listed on a map posted on Eagle County’s website at http://www.eaglecounty.us. There is a link for the Lake Christine fire that includes the map. There also is information available on how to get flood insurance.
Basalt resident Marjorie MacDonald had the comment of the night at the community meeting. After Greer apologized about the noise created by the helicopters brought in to fight the fire, MacDonald stressed there was no need to apologize for any aspect of the firefighting effort.
“I’d like to add that slurry red is my new favorite color,” she quipped, a reference to the retardant drops which likely saved downtown Basalt and residences in the Hill District from disaster.
Vail Mountain opens Nov. 15, about a week earlier than normal. But that earlier opening will be out of Vail Village, not Lionshead.