Fire swats back crews’ ping-pong ball assault |

Fire swats back crews’ ping-pong ball assault

A ping-pong match between crews and the Spring Creek Fire didn’t bounce the firefighters’ way Sunday.

Attempts to use ping-pong balls as incendiary devices to conduct burnout operations on the southeast side of the fire were unsuccessful.

However, firefighters had better luck doing burnouts on the northern fringe of the fire. In burnouts, crews ignite unburnt sections to remove flammable vegetation and help build a containment line around the blaze.

“They burned out quite a bit on the north. Those operations were successful,” said Mike Martin, a spokesman on the fire.

One small “slopover” of fire got outside the containment line, but bulldozer crews were able to build a new line around it, he said.

Firefighters hope to have similar luck on the southeast side of the fire today. On Sunday, they tried a combination of igniting burnouts by hand and dropping fuel-filled balls from the air.

The balls ignited the forest floor but the fire failed to reach the canopy, which continues to be a threat to burn under the wrong circumstances.

The balls are filled with needle-like devices aboard the airplane. On the ground, the liquid fuel dissolves the balls, mixes with oxygen and ignites through a chemical reaction.

Martin said some 14,000 balls have been used over several days on the fire.

Crews plan to try different tactics to conduct burnouts today on the southeast side, and also expect to conduct burnouts on a few spots on the northern flank.

Firefighters are working hard to keep the fire out of Canyon Creek to the southeast, due to the residences and structures there. However, the proximity to inhabited areas makes burnout operations trickier. Winds need to be favorable, heading up-canyon rather than down, Martin said.

He said some crews are camping on the scene to keep any unwanted fires, including those that might start from prior burnout attempts, from getting out of hand.

Containment of the fire increased from 60 percent Saturday to 70 percent Sunday. The projected full containment date is Thursday.

The fire is now in its 24th day. It grew by another 300 acres Sunday to 11,300 acres, due to the burnout operations.

Five crews, four of them Hot Shot crews, are on the scene. A total of 214 personnel are assigned to the blaze.

Six helicopters, six water tenders, two fire engines and one bulldozer also are working the fire. The cost of fighting it has now reached about $6.4 million.

Meanwhile, lightning is now being blamed for a second fire that was detected a few days ago about three miles northwest of the Spring Creek Fire.

That fire is located between the Main Elk Creek Canyon and Meadow Creek, and has grown to roughly 20 to 30 acres, Martin said. He said a 20-person initial attack crew is fighting it, and a helicopter from the Spring Creek Fire has made water drops on it.

Martin said spot blazes caused by the fire have been a problem.

The fire is currently being handled by the Rifle Ranger District of the White River National Forest.

It was first observed Saturday, and is believed to have started around July 8, based on storms that hit the region that day.

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