Best guess is for Lake Christine Fire to be out around Oct. 31 at cost of $18.5 million

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
New growth is already sprouting aside charred trunks of oak brush in the Basalt State Wildlife Area. The recent rains will accelerate the process.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Federal officials tentatively figure that the Lake Christine Fire will be extinguished by the end of October at a final firefighting cost of $18.5 million.

Both the cost and timeline are rough estimates subject to many variables, Karen Schroyer, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger, stressed Friday. The timing of the fire suppression in particular is “somewhat of a shot in the dark,” she said.

The estimate anticipates the usual precipitation and lower temperatures in September and October. However, central Colorado has been mired in a drought and it is uncertain if its lock will ease.

The length of the fire will determine the final firefighting cost.

“We have estimated a total cost of about $18.5 million and right now it’s a little over $17 million,” Schroyer said.

A sixth management team is overseeing the fire since it ignited July 3 and threatened Basalt, El Jebel and the eastern edge of Missouri Heights. Three houses were destroyed; several thousand lives were disrupted.

The management teams are changed based on the size of the firefighting effort. Teams also “time out” and must leave after a certain amount of days on the job. Currently there is a type 4 team based out of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit in Rifle supervising the firefighting.

Schroyer said between 25 and 30 personnel are still involved in the effort. That includes engine crews. No hand crews are stationed any longer in the field on the east perimeter of the fire. The terrain on upper Basalt Mountain is steep, rugged and heavily vegetated. No containment line could be established on that section, so the fire has remained at 90 percent containment for weeks.

Schroyer explained that the fire would be extinguished without ever being considered fully contained. It’s an odd concept to grasp, she acknowledged.

Firefighters explained to her that there is containment, control and extinguishment with a fire. Picture a campfire. If all burning wood is within a fire ring, that’s containment. If water is mixed in and the ashes stirred at night to eliminate all flames, it would be controlled even if there were some warm coals. The next morning, if all coals are cold to the touch, then that means the fire is extinguished.

“Across 13,000 acres, there’s parts of all that,” Schroyer said.

The Lake Christine Fire covers about 12,588 acres with 90 percent containment. Most portions are completely out. A handful of areas are still smoldering and occasionally flare up when temperatures soar.

If there are no additional flare-ups, the firefighting effort might be switched to “monitoring” after the current type 4 team reaches its maximum time on the fire, Schroyer said. That means there wouldn’t be a team assigned to the fire daily, but engines would patrol the area every few days and local firefighters also would keep their eyes on the area.

Pitkin and Eagle counties, as well as the White River National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and Basalt State Wildlife Area remain in stage 2 fire restrictions, which prohibit everything from use of charcoal grills to smoking outdoors and fires of any type. While the Roaring Fork Valley received a soaking rain Tuesday through Thursday morning, it wasn’t enough to offset drought conditions. The stage 2 restrictions remain in place. Local, state and federal officials in the valley get together each Tuesday to assess fire conditions.

“We continue to check the fuel moisture levels,” Schroyer said. “At this point, I would say there’s no indication of lifting those restrictions.”

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