Crews wrap up Spring Creek
A pesky month-long wildfire north of New Castle was finally fully contained Sunday, after consuming about 13,500 acres and $6.9 million in firefighting resources.
Aided by more than three-quarters of an inch of rain Friday and another tenth of an inch on Saturday, crews finally were able to wrap up their containment efforts not only on the Spring Creek Fire, but on the nearby East Meadow Creek Fire, which had reached 93 acres.
“We’re probably going to close up the camp (today), turn the fire over to the local ranger district,” fire spokesman Steve Till said Sunday night.
Firefighters have been staging out of the Riverside Elementary School in New Castle. At one point hundreds of firefighters were on the fire, but today some 60 people, including two 20-person crews, were to wrap up work before turning it over to a Type III crew.
The Spring Creek Fire, which began June 22, never claimed any structures, unlike the Coal Seam Fire, which broke out June 8 and burned 29 residences in the Glenwood Springs area.
However, Spring Creek grew to be even larger than Coal Seam, which remains 95 percent contained and at about 12,200 acres.
Historically speaking, the two were both massive fires for Garfield County. By comparison, the 1994 Storm King Fire, which burned no structures but killed 14 firefighters west of Glenwood Springs, consumed only a few thousand acres.
The lightning-triggered Spring Creek had officials concerned for some time, due to the ruggedness of the terrain involved and the potential threat to homes in the East Elk Creek and Canyon Creek valleys. New Castle’s water supply also originates in the East Elk Creek Valley.
But monsoon rains arrived in time to help firefighters gain the upper hand against the fire.
The rain also presented new challenges. It made it harder to set backburns that are used to widen fire lines, and on Friday it also caused deterioration of the Main Elk Creek Road, which has been used to access the fire. Crews had to be brought in by helicopter instead.
Still, “the weather helped a great deal,” said Till.
The wrapup work for crews now includes fireline rehabilitation. Water bars are being installed to prevent erosion, and boulders placed to prevent vehicles from driving on the firelines.
As with the Coal Seam Fire, a burned area emergency rehabilitation team is evaluating the Spring Creek blaze to determine what kind of reseeding and erosion control efforts might be necessary to protect homes and water supplies from flooding. But Till said the Spring Creek Fire doesn’t present the same kind of flooding concerns created by the Coal Seam Fire.
The latter fire burned out the Mitchell Creek Valley to the extent that as little as a tenth of an inch of rain could flood homes there. Residents have been evacuated twice due to storm threats.
Containment of the Spring Creek and East Meadow Creek fires doesn’t bring an end to road, trail and campground closures associated with them. The White River National Forest must first evaluate safety considerations. Though the fires are contained, they are not out, and hot spots remain.
Also, the fires, followed by rain, have produced unstable ground for the shallow roots of subalpine fires. This has created many snags, or falling live and dead trees, and the potential for more, especially in windy conditions.
Though the Coal Seam Fire is not yet fully contained, no one is fighting it at this time. The uncontained area is in the Flat Tops, and while there are a few hot spots, the fire isn’t considered an immediate threat, said another fire spokesman, Clint Trebesh.
He said crews have been flying over the fire in order to continue monitoring it.
“It’s pretty well under control,” he said.
Containment of the Spring Creek Fire means the helicopter operations out of Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus will end. Any helicopter work will be conducted instead from the helibase at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle.
Meanwhile, a new fire on East Elk Creek south of the national forest boundary was confirmed at just over one acre Saturday evening, and crews responded to it Sunday. Further information on its status was not available Sunday.
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