UPDATE: Cost of 12-day-old Sylvan Fire nearly $5M
The Type I Incident team is preparing to hand off fire management to local crews by Saturday evening
6 p.m. update: EAGLE — The Sylvan Fire is on its heels, but it’s certainly not finished nearly two weeks since igniting south of Eagle in the White River National Forest near the popular Sylvan Lake State Park.
For a large wildfire that quickly became the top priority incident in the Rocky Mountain region due to threats to watersheds and power lines, things have mostly broken the right way.
“Between the weather and being able to get resources when we needed them, things went very well,” said Michelle Kelly, a public information officer with the Rocky Mountain Fire District. “There was more good work out there today. The rain didn’t hit until later. They’ve been able to get direct hand line and have been working to get some more containment. There have been no real issues. They’re not finding a lot of heat still out there.”
As the weather warms up and the area dries out, however, that could change.
“They’ll keep watching it,” Kelly said. “As we move into more of a drying trend, we’ll have a presence out there.”
Earlier this week, Rob Powell, the operations section chief on the fire, called the rain a blessing for Eagle County in a Facebook video. He described the fire activity as “smoldering, skunking around due to the rain.”
More rain fell Friday, but Kelly said some of the heavier precipitation seen throughout the valley missed the fire area.
The fire’s size remains at 3,792 acres on Friday, nearly six square miles. It is 58% contained. There are 389 personnel working the fire, according to the most recent Thursday update on fire’s Incident Information System page, down from a peak of 425.
Moving in, moving out
Those personnel numbers will continue to decline as the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Management Team turns over control of the fire to a local team by 7 p.m. Saturday.
Kelly described that transition in detail Friday.
“We go through and evaluate what processes we would recommend, operations ideas, logistics for the firefighters that are continuing to work here, as well as recommendations for getting information to the public about the fire,” she said. “We just had our transition meeting, where we get into a brief history of the fire and what the team is leaving in place.”
She also said the local Type III team taking over the fire shadows the Type-I team leading up to the transition, which is set to take place at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Costs add up quickly
The cost of the fire, as of Friday, was estimated at $4.9 million and counting. Kelly said the bill will be footed by U.S. Forest Service funds, since the fire is burning in the White River National Forest.
That covers everything from the money paid to personnel on the ground to those in the air, as well as equipment costs, food costs, lodging costs, gas, and anything else you can think of when it comes to such a large-scale effort.
“Everything is accounted for,” Kelly said. “The finance section tracks every order number and everything that’s ordered is paid for, every person that’s working, the food we eat, the lodging.”
One of those order numbers: the large machinery that has been ordered to clear out some of the most hard-to-reach areas of the fire, particularly on the southeast corner of the blaze where Kelly said the terrain wasn’t safe to send in hand crews.
One of the pieces of logging machinery being used is a Timbco feller buncher, which grabs onto a tree and brings it down with a hot saw. The work is fast, and other equipment is used to grab the fallen timber and deck the logs for hauling away.
“Up near the powerline road, down in that area, it’s unsafe, full of snags and a lot of heavy timber that’s real dense,” Kelly said. “The equipment has a cage, so if a tree falls, the likelihood of it smacking an operator is very small.”
As firefighters continue to manage the ongoing fire activity, the team managing the fire asks that out of the interest of public and firefighter safety, people continue to stay out of the area.
Location: Eagle County, White River National Forest in Sylvan Lake State Park, 16 miles south of Eagle
Size: 3,792 acres
Cause: Suspected lightning, still under investigation
Date of Ignition: June 20 around 3:15 PM
Firefighting Personnel: 394
Though lightning is suspected as cause of the fire, the incident is still under investigation.
For the latest information about pre-evacuation or evacuation notices or fire restrictions on non-Federal lands, visit ECemergency.org. Officials are also reminding the public that wildfires are a No Drone Zone, and if you fly, they can’t.
Ali Longwell contributed reporting