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Dangerous conditions for crews fighting Grizzly Creek Fire

Grizzly Creek Fire at 73% containment

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Tents at the Coffee Pot Spike Camp August 21 near Dotsero. Multiple Spike Camps are set up around the Grizzly Creek Fire.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Fire crews hoping to contain the final third of the majority-contained Grizzly Creek Fire continued to face problems from rain and wind on Sunday.

A Facebook update said wind “nearly blew over the porta-potties and everything else in camp,” as crews were temporarily pulled off the line for safety reasons.

This followed a day of rain on Saturday which caused slippery conditions in drainages and on steep slopes, which also caused crews to be pulled from the job while they waited for the rain to pass.

“Firefighters exercised extreme caution on the slippery roads,” a Sunday morning update from the Alaska Incident Management Team reported.

Dangerous conditions

There are currently 657 people working the Grizzly Creek Fire, and resources assigned to the blaze include 12 crews, four helicopters, 33 engines, eight dozers, 10 water tenders, four skidgens, four excavators and three chippers.

While positive news has come out of the area in recent days, significant dangers remain for those on the ground.

“Rain, in limited amounts in this case, is good but wind is very bad,” the Alaska team reported on Sunday. “Winds of the magnitude can blow fire-weakened — or even live — trees over, which pose a serious risk to firefighters. High winds also can cause fire activity to increase, which could lead to spot fires across containment lines.”

Although temperatures are expected to remain lower heading into the week, fire activity could increase Monday.

“Cold fronts are forecast through Sunday and Monday, bringing isolated showers and strong winds,” incident meteorologist Nathan Heinert reported on Sunday. “Despite the chance for local precipitation, fuels are expected to dry by Monday, which could be a critical fire day with low relative humidities and winds gusting to 37 mph.”

The team did report a few bright sides on Sunday, however, including increased containment from 71% to 73% and an encouraging side note: “The only positive with wind is that it does test the strength of containment lines.”

Restoration and water bars

The Grizzly Creek Fire started Aug. 10 in Glenwood Canyon along Interstate 70. As containment of the fire increases, firefighters are working in more rugged and dangerous terrain.

“Helicopters were required to deliver two additional crews to an uncontained section of the fire perimeter, where they are working on a fireline to connect the Grizzly Creek rim to the No Name rim,” Sunday’s update states. “These two drainages comprise some of the most dangerous terrain on this fire and continue to present a challenge.”

Meanwhile, crews on the other side of the 32,464-acres burn area are busy rehabbing areas which were cleared of vegetation with dozers to create fire lines. Much of this work is being performed in the northeast portion of the burn area.

“They’re taking material that was pushed off with dozers, and putting over the dozer line,” Karen Scholl, operations section chief with Alaska Incident Management team, said in a report on Sunday.

Teams are also installing water bars to divert flows and prevent erosion, and in the areas they feel comfortable that fire won’t return, they’re repairing the dozer lines with excavators.

“Once that organic mat is gone — that organic layer, the brush, the trees — water does have a tendency to just roll right off the hill, so water bars are being put in, as well as trying to put back vegetation, just to keep the soil stabilized.”


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