Goal is now to keep Coal Seam Fire within current boundaries | PostIndependent.com
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Goal is now to keep Coal Seam Fire within current boundaries

Donna Daniels

The Coal Seam Fire turned an important corner Thursday when the Incident Command Team handed control of the fire off to the Interagency Fire Use Management Team.

Such a hand-off signals a significant change in management strategy for the fire that now stands at 12,107 acres burned and 90 percent contained. Costs hit $5.6 million Thursday.

Instead of actively fighting the fire, the new team will now focus on keeping it within its current boundaries.

“Our strategy will be confinement, keeping it out of No Name Creek,” said team leader Wayne Cook, a U.S. Forest Service staffer from Missoula, Mont. “We’ll also assess how long the fire could last.”

Cook will retain two hand crews of 20 firefighters each, five engines and three helicopters.

With the southern portion of the fire completely contained, focus will be on the north and northeast portions, where spot fires continue to torch spruce and fir trees.

According to a briefing report issued Thursday, “the fire has had extreme burning potential throughout the entire incident, but has not advanced appreciably since June 14.”

Part of the reason for downsizing the response to the fire is ensuring the safety of firefighters.

About 10 percent of the remaining uncontrolled north and northeast perimeter of the fire is very dangerous to firefighters, a fire team report issued Thursday said.

Stands of spruce and fir in those areas contain about 100 snags per acre. Snags are trees weakened by fire that can fall at any time and are a leading cause of injury for firefighters.

Erratic winds and steep, inaccessible terrain also present a danger to firefighters, the report said.

Because of these dangers, incident commander Steve Hart elected to hand the fire over to what is called a Type II management team. Such a team specializes in containing a fire within its established perimeter, rather than actively fighting it.

But if the fire kicks up at any time, Cook said manpower and machinery are available to fight the fire.

“We have resources … that are more than adequate to do the job,” he said.

Those resources were cut Thursday, leaving a total of 386 firefighters and support personnel on the Coal Seam Fire

The majority of the fire crews came to the end of their 14-day work schedule and a mandatory reassignment for rest or reassignment to another fire. Color

In addition, fire camp and headquarters was moved from Two Rivers Park to the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Campus.

Firefighters continued to patrol fireline on the south and southwest sides of the fire Thursday and to monitor hot spots near the smoldering coal seam in South Canyon.

Crews also worked to suppress fire in isolated stands of spruce and fir on the north and northeast ends. Helicopters dropped slurry and water in those areas.

The 24-hour information phone number has been discontinued because of a drop-off in calls, said fire information officer Jim Dale. The new number is 945-3232 and will be answered from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Fire information booths at various locations in town will be staffed during the Strawberry Days weekend, Dale said.


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