Wildfire scorches West Vail hillside
Dozens of firefighters pounced on flames burning above West Vail Monday, stopping dead in its tracks a wildfire that authorities believe may have been started by a hiker.
Low winds Monday morning and more than a 1,000 feet of firehose helped firefighters quickly snuff the less-than-an-acre “Chamonix Fire” that broke out just after 8:30 a.m. on the steep hillside behind Safeway in West Vail.
“With all the fires going on all over the country, this is more than enough of a fire for Vail,” said Star Hopkins, a City Market employee who watched the fire creep up the hillside.
A few other witnesses reported seeing a man scampering up the hillside as the brush began smoking.
“I saw a guy walking up to the the fire, then he came out above it,” said Steve Dziekan. “He looked back down and then he started running along the ridge.”
A small fan of flames burned as a stream of yellow-coated firefighters from across various Eagle County agencies hiked up toward the wildfire which crawled along the boundary between Vail and the White River National Forest.
Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said the fire could have been much worse.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before it was in our backyard,” Gulick said.
Firefighters were able to string a firehouse from a fire hydrant on Chamonix Road to the blaze burning about 1,000 feet up the steep slope.
“If it had been windy, this fire would have been running away from us,” Gulick said. “But having water up there made all the difference in the world.”
The fire began as a small plume of smoke that slowly gobbled up sagebrush and grass on the hillside but did not spread to a grove of aspen trees standing higher up the slope.
“The fire didn’t look that big but there were already a lot of firefighters up there,” said Kelly Burnett, a frequent visitor to Vail from West Palm Beach. “We were concerned about coming here because you look on the news and it looks like the whole state’s burning.”
Mike Suman, who also works in West Vail, said the fire was too close for comfort but also praised a quick response from firefighters.
“This just became very real,” Suman said. “But it’s amazing watching the firefighters at work.”