New Castle fire 15 percent to 20 percent contained |

New Castle fire 15 percent to 20 percent contained

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
AP photo/Rocky Mountain NewsAn aircraft drops slurry while helping fight a wildfire near Glenwood Springs.

After a long, hot afternoon, firefighters were beginning to get control of a wildfire that ignited in the Canyon Creek area about five miles west of Glenwood Springs Tuesday.

The New Castle Fire grew to 1,060 acres by 8:30 p.m. Strong winds in the afternoon whipped the fire north and east, threatening homes. About 90 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order, and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said more evacuations were possible if the fire crossed over Canyon Creek Road. By late afternoon the fire had come within one half mile of some homes, he said.

In the evening, as dusk settled in the narrow, rugged valley between New Castle and Glenwood Springs, fire commander Mike Piper was hopeful the fire would “lay down” overnight. At about 7 p.m. on the west side of Canyon Creek Road, fire crews started a backburn, which was burning toward the advancing fire. The burned out area was intended to stop the fire from crossing the road to the east side, where the homes are located.

The six or seven aircraft that had dropped loads of water and fire retardant on the flames all day had turned toward home in the evening and left an eerie silence in their wake. Piper credited the air tankers and helicopters with keeping the fire from getting out of hand during the day. “The air drops were invaluable,” he said.

As of 8:30 p.m. Piper said 15 to 20 percent of the fire had been contained. No structures were damaged, but two firefighters had been injured. One had an injury to a hand, and another suffered heat exhaustion.

Indeed, the wealth of air support and more than 200 firefighters on the ground ” resources pulled from other fires in the region to fight this fire ” are a direct legacy of the Storm King Fire. Storm King, which burned just a few miles east of the New Castle Fire, is still fresh in the minds of fire departments and federal agencies. On July 6, 1994, the fire in West Glenwood Springs blew up and raced up the steep slope of Storm King Mountain, trapping and killing 14 firefighters.

“As we stand here and look at Storm King, it commands a lot of respect” among fire managers, Piper said. “It makes resources (for fires in the area) a higher priority.”

Piper said crews would stay on the ground overnight to monitor the progress of the backburn.

Piper also said he would hand over command Thursday morning to a Type 2 federal interagency team, which will bring more manpower to the scene. Local fire departments have fought the fire since it started Sunday night during a severe lightning storm. “We can’t support this type of operation for any length of time,” he said. Piper said the blaze was especially difficult to fight because it was burning in rough terrain which made it impossible to bring in bulldozers to build a line around the fire. Ground crews were fighting spot fires and building some fire line by hand, he said.

Vallario said the evacuations were going smoothly Tuesday. “The people who were evacuated have been wonderful, and very understanding,” Vallario said. They’ve had lots of practice. Many of the same families were evacuated during the Storm King Fire.

Vallario said he will hold a public meeting with evacuees at 1 p.m. today, Wednesday, at Riverside Middle School in New Castle, to answer questions about the fire.

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