Fire 70 percent in check |

Fire 70 percent in check

Coal Seam Fire managers deployed eight hand crews of firefighters Monday from spike camps in the Flat Tops in an effort to close off the leading edge of the wildfire.

Although the wildfire risk remains at its most dangerous level, the Hot Shot crews are now working on the volatile northeast boundary of the fire in hopes of containing the blaze.

By Monday evening, the 12,105-acre fire was 70 percent contained, said fire management team spokesman Doug Johnston of the Kern County Fire Department of Bakersfield, Calif.

The fire is 100 percent contained on the portion of the fire south of Interstate 70 and the Colorado River, he said.

Firefighting costs climbed to $3.8 million Monday, and 625 people are involved in the effort to quell the 10-day-old blaze.

Crews are assisted by three large and four small helicopters that haul water, carry people and conduct mapping and reconnaissance work. The helicopter base has now been consolidated at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus.

Four crews continue to work the perimeter of the southern branch of the fire, using small, four-wheel-drive water engines to patrol the fire line and “make sure everything stays and behaves,” Johnston said.

A helicopter toting radiometric mapping equipment flew over the south side branch Monday checking for hot spots.

“The last mission showed one, and it was on the interior of the fire. Everything on the line at the south end is completely cold, so we’re looking good there,” Johnston said.

Meanwhile, eight crews of firefighters – 160 in all – were ferried up to Flat Tops camps via National Guard vehicles and helicopters Sunday to continue work on the circuitous fire line that winds through the headwaters of Mitchell Creek and Oasis Creek.

A finger of the fire has burned close to the edge of the No Name Creek basin about two miles south of Windy Point, but the fire perimeter has otherwise stayed well back from the basin that is the main water source for Glenwood Springs.

“The plan was to get crews in place, with everybody up there working along these lines for the next couple of days, making containment along these divisions,” Johnston said.

“The weather is not really cooperating, but we’re lucky the fire hasn’t done anything,” he added.

Although fire managers have repeatedly said that the Coal Seam Fire would behave erratically, it seems to have settled down a bit.

“Our fire has been behaving, which is a little eerie,” Johnston said. “We thought with the gusty winds, we might have significant fire behavior. But the fuel type has helped. Aspens resist burning to a certain degree.”

While aspen groves and meadows slow the fire, pinon-juniper and spruce-fir forests are still burning, he said.

Occasional wind gusts cause single trees to torch, but the fire is generally staying within its boundaries.

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