Tenderfoot 2 Fire stays put despite high winds, officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ the worst is over | VailDaily.com

Tenderfoot 2 Fire stays put despite high winds, officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ the worst is over

Jack Queen
Summit Daily News

The winds came on Tuesday, but they were too late to rouse the Tenderfoot 2 Fire near Dillon. By the afternoon, its once-fearsome plume of smoke had reduced to pale wisps. Much of the 25-acre fire had burned in the low sagebrush, leaving a brown outline like an inkblot on the mountainside.

Firefighters and aircraft hammered away at the fire early in the morning when the day was still calm and their work paid off, keeping the fire from growing even as the wind started howling.

"The wind has picked up but the hand crews made very good progress, so we're just seeing residual smoke and not very much in the way of flames," said incident spokeswoman Tracy LeClair at around 4:30 p.m.

As a rule, fire officials avoid calling fires "out" prematurely; embers can continue smoldering for weeks after the firefighting stops, and smoke from Tenderfoot 2 will likely stick around for several days.

But by Tuesday evening the fire looked cowed if not quite whipped. A red flag wind advisory remained in place until 8 p.m., but hours of gusts throughout the day had failed to fan the flames back to life.

The fire started at around 5 p.m. on Monday right next to U.S. Highway 6. Like the Peak 2 Fire near Breckenridge in July, Monday's blaze got a healthy dose of air power within hours of igniting.

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Before the sun was down, two air tankers had strafed the fire at least half-a-dozen times with flame retardant slurry, and helicopters dropped bucket after bucket of water from Lake Dillon.

In the morning, the tankers dropped a few final loads before packing it in, and the helicopters followed later in the afternoon.

Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire, but it coincided with a power outage in Dillon that lasted as long as two hours in some homes. LeClair said she was not aware of any additional outages on Tuesday.

Since the blaze also sprang up in the midst of power transmission lines, officials say that what caused the outage could have started the fire as well.

"The fire may have been related to the cause of the outage," LeClair said. "It's very possible given the proximity of the fire to the power lines, but investigators still need to go in and figure out the exact origin and work from there,"

The fire was hair-raisingly close not just to power lines but also microwave communications repeaters, a water plant and the Corinthian Hill and Oro Grande neighborhoods. They could all be in danger should the fire stir again.

"With fires in Summit County, almost every location has a high level of risk," U.S. Forest Service incident commander Eric White said in a Tuesday afternoon news release. "We're doing everything in our power to mitigate those losses while maintaining the safety of our community residents and crews."

The topography, however, looked favorable from the start, and no neighborhoods were ever placed on pre-evacuation notice. If the fire was going to grow, officials predicted, it would grow uphill and into the wilderness.

The landscape was also fairly accessible for firefighters, although the power lines and patches of standing dead beetle-kill posed safety risks.

The entire Tenderfoot Trail system was closed on Tuesday and likely to remain so until the fire is mostly out and crews have felled some of the burned-up standing snags.

In the late afternoon, crews could be seen in the distance starting the mop-up effort, mostly by extinguishing smoldering patches within the fire zone.

"We are cautiously optimistic," LeClair said. "Crews have done a really great job and once they come down tonight we'll have a much better idea of what the percent containment is and what conditions are looking like up there."