Coal Seam not the only fire in the area |

Coal Seam not the only fire in the area

Donna Daniels

What began as a 20-acre wildfire spread to 13,500 acres and burned for a month when lightning ignited the Spring Creek Fire 12 miles north of New Castle on June 22. Only a few miles to the east, the 12,000-acre Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs continued to burn.

It was also a summer that saw a fire burn 1,600 acres and three residences in Missouri Heights, and spark another dangerous fire near Thompson Creek.

When the Spring Creek Fire began, interagency fire crews, including smokejumpers and helicopters, jumped on the fire in the Clinetop area of the Flat Tops. Steep canyons made firefighting difficult.

Within a week the fire had grown to 250 acres, whipped up by high winds and continuing drought conditions. It moved from Spring Creek to the East Elk Creek drainage, threatening ranches there. Preparations were made to evacuate people living up East Elk Creek. The fire burned to within a mile of the homes.

By the following weekend the fire had resisted efforts by firefighters to control it and increased in size to 1,000 acres. By June 30 it was at 3,000 acres with no sign of slowing down.

Almost 300 firefighters were on the ground but could not contain the blaze, which burned north and east into East Elk Creek. The fire sent up a huge plume of smoke that could be seen from Interstate 70 about 12 miles south of the fire.

By July 1, the fire had grown to 7,339 acres and remained 0 percent contained. Most of the firefighting effort concentrated on keeping the fire from burning to the east and reaching Canyon Creek and its subdivisions.

Firefighting crews grew in number to 400 by July 4. By July 10 the fire was 50 percent contained. Spot crews were camping out within the fire’s perimeter to put out isolated flaring hot spots.

Over the next few days, high winds kicked up and the fire grew rapidly. On July 12 it reached 9,300 acres. Three days later it had reached 11,300 acres, due primarily to burnout efforts to keep the blaze from spreading to the east.

Annual afternoon thunderstorms finally developed and dropped enough moisture to give firefighters the upper hand. By July 17 the fire reached its final size of 13,500 acres. Firefighters continued to make huge strides in containment and on July 22 the Spring Creek fire was officially declared 100 percent contained.

Firefighting efforts cost the federal government $6.9 million.

As for the July 31 Panorama Fire, it was contained in about 24 hours after destroying two homes and a residential tepee. The fire was thought to have been started by a spark from a chain saw being used to cut rebar. Some employees of the construction crew allegedly responsible for the fire left town, preventing criminal prosecution, but civil action continues against Mendoza Concrete.

A quick response by firefighters and the arrival of cooler, wetter weather were credited for keeping in check the Thompson Creek Fire, which started Sept. 5 and raised concerns because of its proximity to Carbondale.

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