Beaver Creek Fire: ‘It Could Be Weeks, It Could Be Months’
The size of the Beaver Creek Fire has been revised lower after an infrared flight Wednesday night conducted by fire managers allowed more accurate mapping of the burn area.
As of Thursday afternoon, the fire has consumed 5,368 acres on the Routt National Forest, Bureau of Land Management lands on Independence Mountain and some private property roughly 15 miles northwest of Walden, Colo., about two miles south of the Wyoming/Colorado border.
Dawn Sanchez, public information officer for the Beaver Creek Fire, says fire crews are still focused on structure protection efforts. Firefighters on the ground are not directly engaging the fire.
"It's just not safe to put these firefighters right up against that fire," Sanchez says, citing hazards posed by the high percentage of beetle kill where the fire continues to burn.
Sanchez says fire managers plan to use natural and manmade features, such as rock outcroppings or roads, to confine the fire. Due to the difficulty of directly accessing the blaze and fire managers' priority of keeping firefighters safe, the fire will continue to put smoke in the air for quite some time.
"They're going to try to find those containment lines and box that fire in and then they're going to let some of that clean out the interior," says Sanchez. "Residents here are expected to see smoke for a long time coming."
"It could be weeks, it could be months," Sanchez says. "It just depends on how the fire behaves in their and how they're able to get it contained."
The blaze burned as a crown fire earlier in the week. Sanchez says while it still makes some runs, it is not a fully-involved crown fire at this point.
The fire threatens roughly 40 structures. Sanchez says the Jackson County Sheriff's Office had not been able to account for any structures, damaged or otherwise, Thursday afternoon.
Over 120 people were assigned to the fire as of Thursday afternoon. Other resources include two Jackson County bulldozers used to build fire lines, four helicopters that continue water drops on hot spots as conditions allow, four strike teams and three hand crews. In addition, personnel aboard two fixed-wing aircraft direct air traffic from high above the fire.
A tanker dropped one load of retardant on the blaze Tuesday, but Sanchez says those efforts are not continuing at this time.
Fire crews have been successful in containing several spot fires. However, containment is not estimated until flames reach established fire lines and those lines hold. As such, the fire remained zero percent contained Thursday afternoon.
A firefighter who was injured Wednesday sustained a small cut on one finger when another firefighter who was unloading equipment from a truck accidentally turned around and struck the other firefighter with a chainsaw. The chainsaw was not running at the time
Thunder cells were forming as Sanchez spoke Thursday afternoon, and she says the resulting winds can be problematic for firefighters.
Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Blue took assumed control of the fire Thursday morning.
"The type-two team is a more experienced team," says Sanchez. "This is what they do all summer long; these teams go around the country and they manage these larger fires."
"It helps take the load off of the local folks as well and let them get back to doing initial attack on new fires if they were to happen, and back to their normal jobs," Sanchez adds.
Evacuations ordered Tuesday remain in place. Night shift operations continue.
Continuing closures include Big Creek Lakes Recreation Area including both upper and lower Big Creek Lake, Forest Road 600, east of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary and south of Forest Road 681 as well as sough of Forest Road 80.
The fire began around noon on Sunday. Authorities continue to seek information on suspicious activity near where the fire started in the Twisty Peak area. Anyone with information can call Forest Service Officer Hanna Nadeau at 307-343-2335.
Concerned cabin owners can contact the Jackson County Sheriff's Office at 970-473-4242.
Public information about the Beaver Creek Fire is available at 307-223-2291.
The fire is located just south of the Wyoming-Colorado border, or roughly 15 miles northwest of Walden, Colorado or roughly 20 miles south-southeast of Encampment.