Lake Christine Fire: 13,000 acres, 4,200 man hours and $500,000 to date
EAGLE — The Lake Christine fire threatened hundreds of homes in the Basalt/El Jebel area, brought an army of wildland firefighters to the valley and dominated headlines for days.
It is now listed at 90 percent containment.
The massive smoke pillar rising from the blaze is no longer visible and the firefighting corps have largely dispersed to other emergencies leaving nearly 13,000 charred acres behind.
But as they have since the first emergency notification, staff from Eagle County are still working the fire, which was the largest blaze in recent county history. As Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll noted, remnants of the Lake Christine fire will likely continue to burn until smothered by snow.
Shroll estimates more than 165 individual county employees put in more than 4,200 hours at the Lake Christine fire and those figures do not include deputy hours from the Eagle County Sheriff’s office.
What the estimate does include is a laundry list of services, everything from county health employees providing translation services for residents displaced by the fire to county GIS employees compiling detailed mapping of the burn area. The communications department was continuously updating the county’s Facebook account with real-time information.
“We had people tracking down clean clothing for residents who had been evacuated and the clerk and recorder’s office basically handed over their building in El Jebel for us to work from,” Shroll said. “There was almost not a single office in the county that was not involved with the Lake Christine response.”
The fire was a personal as well as professional challenge for some county employees, he added.
“Some of our employees who work in the Roaring Fork Valley were evacuated from their homes. They pulling double stress duty,” Shroll said.
Obviously, the county’s massive response to the fire emergency carries a price tag. Early estimates place the cost in the $500,000 area. While the county will be reimbursed for some of those expenses, the local government must pay the up-front costs for overtime and services provided.
“We do have a fund for emergencies that just kind of sits there in our budget for this type of situation” Shroll said.
One of the lasting chores resulting from the Lake Christine fire is that the county will have to examine expenditures made during the emergency and work through the reimbursable process with the state and federal governments. The feds recently estimated the total cost of fighting the Lake Christine fire to date at $13 million. It consumed 12,588 acres.
But that’s only one fire-related duty that remain for county crews.
There will be an extensive debriefing process for the fire so local officials can evaluate what worked well and what should be fixed in preparation for a future emergencies. As the federal resources move on from the Lake Christine fire, Eagle County will take over the lead role in providing public information. In the aftermath of fire, flooding and mudslides are a danger.
This week forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction are planning a special training program regarding potential flash flood threats for the Lake Christine wildfire burn scar area.
The training session has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at the Roaring Fork Conservancy located at 22800 Two Rivers Road in Basalt. The training will begin with a two-hour session on identifying and reporting severe weather events, followed by a half-hour program on accurately measuring precipitation.
Because flash flood potential is greatly increased on burned areas, emergency managers from Eagle and Pitkin counties are depending on the support of the National Weather Service and volunteer storm spotters to work with them to increase rainfall monitoring and enhance flash flood warning notifications for people living in areas vulnerable to flash flooding near the burn scar.
Anyone interested in attending the Aug. 8 storm spotter and rainfall measurement training in Basalt can simply show up at the time of the training. There is no RSVP required for this event.
While residents of the Basalt/El Jebel area have been effusively thanking the firefighters who saved their community, the county itself wanted to say a special thanks to its employees. Last week the commissioners passed a resolution recognizing employees for their extraordinary efforts during the Lake Christine fire and they hosted an all-employee afternoon ice cream social.
“We don’t want to have emergencies. We don’t want to have events like this fire happen in our county, but when they do, we want to be prepared,” Shroll said.
In that respect, he believes the county employees truly stepped up when needed. And, he noted, they not only pitched in to help, they did it with a willing attitude and no complaints.
“For me, being new to the organization, I was awestruck. It was impressive to watch,” Shroll said.