UPDATE: Activity slows, containment grows on Sylvan Fire
The Type I Incident team is preparing to hand off fire management to local crews by Saturday evening
9 p.m. update: The Sylvan Fire is 58% contained as of Wednesday evening and the team working the nearly 6 square mile blaze south of Eagle will be sizing down as more black containment lines are added to the map.
Total personnel assigned to the fire ballooned to as many as 425 by Wednesday, but was down to 394 on Thursday evening. The Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Team managing the fire is preparing to transition the fire back to local crews by Saturday evening.
The hope is to scale back everything by Saturday, according to public information officer Tracy LeClair.
About a quarter of an inch of rain fell on the fire on Wednesday, which has helped continue to subdue fire behavior, according to the Thursday morning update. Even with a rise in temperatures on Thursday, the chance for scattered showers should continue over the next few days.
“The rain has certainly helped,“ LeClair said, adding that the fuels — mainly spruce and fir trees — have been able to absorb a lot of the moisture, effectively limiting fire behavior. This would not have been the case had it stayed hot, dry and windy this week.
Operation Section Chief Rob Powell called this rain a blessing for Eagle County in a Facebook video on Thursday. He added that fire activity is “smoldering, skunking around due to the rain.”
However, with temperatures expected to rise through the weekend, the crews are preparing for a possible increase in fire behavior next week.
“They’ve gone all the way around the fire and scouted out contingency lines should the weather change and should the fire behavior increase or the wind increase,” LeClair said. “We have looked further out from the edge of the fire for those opportunities to have alternative lines, should we need them.”
As part of this scouting, the crews have identified several areas that require further securing from the fire.
On Thursday, firefighters worked to put down black line along the powerline road while continuing to evaluate the area.
“It’s continuing the work that they’ve done, going back over and griding areas to make sure they haven’t missed any potential hot spots; and then tying into the trails and the powerline road and some of those areas that we’ve identified as good fuel breaks already,” LeClair said.
Already, certain areas of the fire have been almost entirely contained and firefighters are working to establish a line along the fire’s perimeter South of Sylvan Lake where terrain allows. Firefighters will continue securing and improving the control line along the steam, parallel to Forest Service Road 400.
Firefighters have also completed a containment line along the Mount Thomas Trail ridgeline and down into the drainage basin. The steep, inaccessible portions of the fire further down the drainage will be boxed in by the Mount Thomas Trail on the south and scree slopes on the west.
The crews will receive extra assistance and manpower from a hotshot crew on a difficult section, just southeast of the current containment line, from the powerline to the stream bottom.
The goal, Powell said, is to have this area contained by “the next shift or two.” He added “we’re going to make that black for you guys by the time we leave,” referring to the black containment line making its way around the fire’s perimeter.
As containment has increased the past few days, the crews have seen less support activity from aircraft in the area. However, the incident management team is bringing in heavy equipment — namely bulldozers and logging equipment — to help with some of the area’s difficult terrain.
This equipment will be used “to clear some areas to make it safe for the firefighters to operate,” LeClair said. These areas include steep, densely wooded areas in the fire perimeter, where crews need to clear paths for firelines.
As firefighters continue to manage the ongoing fire activity, LeClair asks that out of the interest of public and firefighter safety, that people continue to stay out of the area.
“With the Fourth of July weekend coming up, we do expect to see a lot more increase in recreation in the area. So we just urge mountain bikers, hikers, ATVers to please stay out of the area,” she said.
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: 425
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.
Nate Peterson contributed reporting.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.