Wildfire in Wildridge
The fire erupted near a power pole at about 2:20 a.m. and spread rapidly up a hillside above several shops on the west side of lower Metcalf Road, authorities said.”At first it looked small and I thought they’d get it out pretty quick,” said Carl Lindbloom, a photographer who was working in his Metcalf Road shop early Friday morning and was the first to call 911. “But then it took off and I got nervous and started packing my gear and negatives.”The fire, which did not damage any homes or shops, is being treated as accidental, said Chuck House, a fire investigator for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.”It looks like it’s probably related to the electrical powerlines,” House said. “That is most likely the cause.”About 60 firefighters from several Eagle County agencies pounced on the fire. Swirling winds had authorities worried the blaze could rage out of control, said Kathy Warren, a spokeswoman for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.”I woke up because the sky was glowing,” Wildridge resident Dave Power said. “It was pretty wild at first. At the top of the ridge you could see flames.”The flames, some climbing as high as 40 feet into the air, were burning in grass and brush just above businesses on Metcalf Road and less than a mile from homes in Wildridge.”Around 3:30 a.m. the weather got even more erratic and swirling winds kicked up the flames,” Warren said. “That’s when we decided to evacuate the lower portion of Wildridge.”Authorities began using an emergency reverse 911 system and going door to door to evacuate residents from Wildridge at around 4 a.m.Flames came close to the home of Wildridge resident Marty Orcutt and burned only hundreds of yards above the Metcalf Road shop she owns with her husband.”I didn’t want to lose my house and my business on the same day,” said Orcutt, who runs Mountain Spruce.Authorities shut power off in Wildridge for about a half an hour early Friday morning because the flames were burning near powerlines and transformers. Orcutt said the brief power outage made it a lot harder for her to gather important belongings when she, her husband and family members fled their home.”I knew exactly what I was going to take, but through all this evacuation stuff no one ever said we might have to do it in the dark,” Orcutt said. “In the dark, I couldn’t get my files drawers out. But we’re going to buy some flashlights today.”Evacuated Wildridge residents were directed down Mountain Star Road rather than Wildridge Road, which was blocked by fire engines and emergency vehicles.”It’s a good thing we have two exits,” Orcutt said.Orcutt said she and her family spent the two-hour evacuation at Denny’s in Avon.No residents or firefighters were injured, Warren said.Firefighters from the Eagle River Fire Protection District were the first to arrive. They saw a 100-square-foot area on fire with flames shooting about five feet into the air. About a half-an-hour later, the winds picked up and more firefighters were called to battle the blaze, Warren said.”If the wind had caught it would’ve burned up the saddle toward homes,” Warren said. “It was really close.”What helped firefighters put out the blaze was that they were able to drag a fire hose down the hill from a hydrant in Wildridge and up from a fire engine on Metcalf Road.”You’ve got an endless supply of water and you don’t have to keep filling up bladder bags and bringing them up,” Warren said.Firefighters were also able to dig a fire line around the bottom of the blaze.The fire at first spread through highly flammable grass up the hillside but slowed down when it reached the ridge, Warren said.”We were lucky at the top. The fuel load was really light and it more or less put itself out on top,” she said.By dawn, the winds died down and increasing humidity helped firefighters snuff the blaze though they continued to mop up hot spots throughout Friday morning.Along with the Eagle River Fire Protection District, the Vail Fire Department, the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, the Gypsum Fire Protection District, the U.S. Forest Service, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the Avon Police Department and the Eagle County Ambulance District responded to the fire.Residents commended firefighters for arriving at the fire quickly.”The firemen, you’ve got to hand it to them,” Power said. “They were right on it, they did a great job – it never got close to anybody’s house. They knocked it right out.”But the threat of a large wildfire in Wildridge is frightening, Power said.”We sat on our porch watching. It was a little cloudy with a massive orange glow,” he said. “Wildridge – we’re just a cul-de-sac. You get the right fire here and we’re screwed. But you could get away using the back roads.”Vail Daily Arts & Entertainment Editor Wren Wertin, a Wildridge resident, contributed to this report.