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Coal Seam fire attacked from air, ground Monday

Heather McGregor

Ground crews started working on the Coal Seam fire Monday, air tankers stepped up slurry drops, and the weather cooperated with firefighting efforts.

As a result, the Coal Seam fire made only a few runs Monday and fire officials reported that it was 5 percent contained by Monday evening.

The 9,500-acre fire still threatens Glenwood Springs, but lost its place as the state’s top priority wildfire when the Hayman fire in the Front Range foothills spread to an estimated 75,000 acres Monday.

“We can’t expect to get any more resources,” said fire information officer Justin Dombrowski. “We should feel fortunate we could get what we’ve got now.”

He reported that 482 people are working to contain the wildfire that damaged or destroyed 24 houses and 14 outbuildings in a blow-up Saturday.

On Monday, nine ground crews, including three Hot Shot crews, began building a defensible fire line in three areas: South Canyon, where the fire was sparked by a long-burning underground coal seam, Red Mountain and Mitchell Creek.

In addition, the firefighting effort included 68 fire engines, five air tankers, one helicopter and five bulldozers.

Winds remained manageable Monday, and the tankers were able to fly all day dropping huge loads of fire-retarding slurry on the fire, Dombrowski said.

The weather forecast for today called for a high pressure system to move into the area, bringing humidity in the teens, warm temperatures and winds of 10 to 15 mph., similar to Monday.

So the tankers should be able to fly again today, he said.

After three days of wildfire, Dombrowski was pleased to report that there have been no injuries or deaths from the fire.

It’s a point of pride in Glenwood Springs, where the deaths of 14 Hot Shots and Helitack firefighters in the 1994 Storm King fire left a deep wound.

Fire safety officer Bill Kight, a 23-year veteran of fighting wildfires, said the high level of safety during the calamitous fire has been greatly appreciated. As a West Glenwood resident, he too has been evacuated since the Coal Seam fire blew up Saturday afternoon.

Speaking to reporters Monday evening, Kight said, “I’m going to drop the professional facade, and say I’m very proud of this community. We didn’t lose any lives, and no one was hurt.”

The crowd, which included many evacuated residents, applauded in response.

“When you return to your homes, think about what it took to make this happen, and maintain that attitude through the fire season,” Kight said.

State Rep. Gregg Rippy, another evacuee, praised the valley firefighters who held a line against the fire blow-up Saturday, preventing it from coming any further into West Glenwood.

“They picked a line and held it,” Rippy said. “They foamed some houses, and got the hoses out. When I toured the area late Saturday night, I told them I was amazed at what they’d done. When I went back and looked at it the next morning, I was astounded.

“To stop that fire where they did was unbelievable. The houses that burned down are completely gone, down to the foundations. It was quite a feat they pulled off to stop it there,” Rippy said.

Their appreciation was echoed by those working to manage the situation, and by the people whose lives have been affected.

Police chief Terry Wilson banked heavy praise on the firefighters, law enforcement officers, National Guard troops and countless volunteers who have worked around the clock over the past three days on the disaster.

“Your patience, volunteerism and understanding are appreciated. We’re going to need a little bit more, so please hang in there with us. We’ll get it done,” he said.

In response, resident Jami Hill, who is harboring evacuated relatives at her Glenwood Springs home, offered her thanks for the work the fire managers and crews have done.

“I want to say thank you for all of us. It’s been really comforting to spend time in this community. All of us know everybody has been looking out for the best interests of everyone,” Hill said.

She noted that the fire is far from done, and sought a way for residents to support firefighters with food and other aid.

Francisco Gonima, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, said he would announce plans for community donations to the firefighting effort today.

Residents seeking information about the fire can call 947-1260, 947-1262, 947-1269 or 947-1292; or go online to the Garfield County fire website at http://www.garfield-county.com/fire.


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