Coal Seam Fire burns another 1,000 acres |

Coal Seam Fire burns another 1,000 acres

The Coal Seam Fire grew by 1,000 acres Wednesday, spreading to the northeast through fir and aspen forests on the Flat Tops toward Windy Point and the headwaters of No Name Creek.

Glenwood Springs residents watched huge plumes of smoke rise from the northern horizon Wednesday afternoon, but fire officials said the fire burned less new ground on Wednesday than on Tuesday.

“The fire is not going for a 5,000 to 7,000-acre run like it did on the first day,” said fire information officer Justin Dombrowski. “It races uphill, but it works downhill more slowly. The topography can work in our favor here.”

And the fire is now 25 percent contained, including the crucial edges of the blaze that come close to the city on Red Mountain and in West Glenwood, Dombrowski reported.

There are 20 engines working the fire, concentrated in areas where structures could be endangered.

“They’re working in areas where there are structures,” Dombrowski said. “They’re taking this proactive approach with defensible space.”

That entails clearing trees and brush from a threatened structure, he said.

“Up above West Glenwood, they’re working a line and beginning to mop up,” he said.

Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri stressed that closed off areas should be avoided, or trespassers will face arrest and “aggressive prosecution.”

“Residential areas have been taped off,” he said of the burned neighborhoods. “It is illegal to trespass at Robin Hood Mobile Home Park.”

Fifteen ground crews, including four Hot Shot crews, spent Wednesday digging fire lines to flank the burned areas.

“We want to come around from behind, flank it and finally pinch it off,” Dombrowski said.

Firefighting efforts also benefited from the return of two Type 1 helicopters, capable of hauling 600- and 1,000-gallon loads of water or retardant. The helicopters worked all day dousing the Red Mountain and South Canyon portions of the blaze in concert with the ground crews.

A third, smaller helicopter was also aloft Wednesday, making some bucket drops of water, but mostly doing reconnaissance and radiometric mapping.

The mapping gives fire managers a more clear picture of where the fire perimeter has cooled down, and where it is still hot, according to mapping technician Chris Pratt of Mid Valley Helicopter in Jefferson, Ore.

“It’s a tool that helps put the fire to bed earlier,” he said, displaying a map that showed the fire perimeter outlined in red and green spots.

Information from the radiometric mapping showed that the Red Mountain fireline is cool, but the southerly line along the edge of upper Three Mile Creek remains spotted between hot and cool spots.

As a result, fire commander Steve Hart declined to lift the evacuation order for upper Three Mile, Mountain Springs Ranch or South Canyon.

Sheriff Tom Dalessandri noted that another burned home was found Wednesday on a ridge in South Canyon. He didn’t have a revised total of damaged and destroyed structures. The most recent count was 41 homes and outbuildings.

Weather conditions for today were predicted to be much like Tuesday and Wednesday, with easterly winds in the morning and stronger westerly winds in the afternoon, high temperatures of 85 degrees and a relative humidity of 7 percent, which could cause the fire to kick up earlier in the day.

Dombrowski said the light winds didn’t hamper the helicopters or the crews Wednesday.

But the fireline work went into areas where the fixed-wing air tankers wouldn’t have been effective, so they were used on other fires Wednesday, Dombrowski said. The tankers remain at the disposal of Coal Seam Fire managers, and could be brought in again this week, he said.

A total of 684 people are fighting the fire, including the 300 ground crew firefighters, seven bulldozer operators and pilots.

Cost of fighting the fire as of 5 p.m. Wednesday was estimated at nearly $1.4 million, with $300,000 in air support alone.

Staff writer Greg Masse contributed to this report.

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