Crews advance on fire near C’dale | PostIndependent.com
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Crews advance on fire near C’dale

Heather McGregor

Strong winds pushed the Thompson Creek fire to 200 acres Friday, but cloudy weather and a light drizzle calmed the wildfire Saturday.

“The fire did not grow today. We had very favorable weather,” said fire spokesman Ron Gosnell.

The cooler weather gave fire crews a chance to dig a fire line directly along the east and west sides of the elongated burn, Gosnell said.

Today, fire bosses planned to send the six 20-person fire crews into the rugged Thompson Creek area to flank and tie off the leading edge of the fire, on its north side, Gosnell said.

“It’s mostly a hand crew show right now. We cannot get engines up on the fire, so we’re depending on crews to get in there and work the burn,” Gosnell said.

Incident commander Joe Hartman, who managed the Spring Creek Fire north of New Castle in July, and a Type II overhead team took over management of the fire Friday night.

Federal fire managers consider the fire to be a high risk because of the extreme drought conditions and the fire’s location just west of Carbondale. It’s southwest of Jerome Park and the Spring Gulch cross-country ski area.

Hartman’s team expects to contain the fire by Monday evening and turn the firefighting effort back over to the Carbondale and Rural Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire was first reported Thursday at 11:36 a.m., and Carbondale volunteers jumped into action. By Thursday afternoon federal firefighters arrived, including two crews of smokejumpers.

One smokejumper, a 29-year-old man from Redding, Calif., suffered a broken leg on landing. He was rescued and flown by helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. Surgeons operated Friday evening to repair the broken bone, and the firefighter was reportedly doing well.

In spite of efforts by firefighters, the blaze grew to 130 acres by nightfall Thursday, burning very dry stands of pinon, juniper, Douglas-fir and sagebrush.

“The suppression strategy from the beginning was to keep this fire as small as we can,” Gosnell said, “so we hit it as hard as we could.”

On Friday afternoon, winds pushed the fire outward, adding a bulge to the long, narrow burn profile. Plumes of smoke rose from the blaze and drifted down into the Crystal and Roaring Fork valleys.

Winds also grounded aircraft Friday, according to the Grand Junction Air Center, but two helicopters were back on the scene Saturday to ferry firefighters and make bucket drops of water.

Hartman ordered two larger helicopters to assist on Saturday, but sent them back before they arrived on scene.

“He felt we could get by without them,” Gosnell said.

The fire crews achieved good line construction Saturday, Gosnell said. Today, they hoped to contain the head of the fire and then go back and deepen the fire line cut on Friday and Saturday.

Hartman’s team also has a plan for protecting seven cabins and the North Thompson Cattle Pool’s cow camp, which are nearby but not under immediate threat from the fire.

Rancher Bob Perry said the North Thompson herd is grazing west of the fire.

“The fire is burning in steep country where nobody ever goes. There’s not much water in there, so there probably aren’t any cattle,” Perry said. “Where it is now, it’s not going to do much harm.”

As a precaution, rancher John Burtard rode up to the cow camp to retrieve a few valuable items and open gates so livestock won’t get trapped if the fire spreads unexpectedly.

Fire crews and equipment are being staged at the Crystal River Ranch in Jerome Park and in a field near the Carbondale fire station.

The weather forecast calls for more cloudy weather today, said Bob Irvine, fire behavior analyst for the Type II team, which should work to firefighters’ advantage unless thunderstorms bring in stiff winds.

Gosnell said slurry bombers are parked in Grand Junction and available if the fire starts to spread again.


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