Rain helps, hinders crews working Lake Christine Fire’s final containment section | PostIndependent.com

Rain helps, hinders crews working Lake Christine Fire’s final containment section

David Krause
The Aspen Times
Lake Christine Fire crews hike back to camp at sunset Saturday night in the section where they are trying to get containment.
Courtesy Reggie Jarvis / Incident Command Team

Crews fighting the Lake Christine Fire dealt with treacherous conditions caused by storms over the weekend as they work toward full containment of the month-old fire.

Nearly two dozen hand crews were added to the front line, and officials stressed “a message of firefighter safety” Sunday as they continue to work on the final containment line near the top of Basalt Mountain.

No injures were reported because of the weather conditions, Type 3 official Neal Kephart said Sunday afternoon.

“The rain was good from the standpoint that it cooled down the fire and took the roar out of it, but it made it necessary to look at safety concerns even more and make decisions based on safety of the firefighters,” Kephart said. “Luckily, it was a pretty quiet day up there.”

In that final containment area, a storm dropped approximately one-tenth of an inch on the fire Saturday (on top of a quarter-inch Friday), “making the already precarious slope more slippery to ground troops hiking the fire perimeter and engines driving on the steep, narrow and muddy roads,” according to the Sunday morning update. “Thunderstorms accompanied by lightning strikes and wind gusts of up to 40 mph are further hampering firefighting efforts. Fire-weakened aspen and conifer snags coming down present a constant threat to firefighters, limiting firefighters’ ability to actively engage the fire.”

Officials said Sunday the fire, which has burned 12, 588 acres since starting July 3, remains at 90 percent containment.

A hand crew of 20 firefighters was added Saturday “to keep what was cold staying there” on the northern side of the fire, Type 3 incident command team operations supervisor Reggie Jarvis said Sunday. It brings the total personnel fighting the fire to 75.

Firefighters have been working on the last uncontained section, which is on the fire’s east side, for the past week but are in steep areas near the 10,863-foot summit of Basalt Mountain. Ground crews have been sleeping in the area and supplies are being dropped in.

“While presenting challenges to fire crews, the rain is assisting them in their efforts with a 40-50 percent chance of ‘wetting rain’ (over one tenth of an inch),” Sunday’s fire update stated. “The cumulative impact of the current weather pattern includes shorter day lengths, increase in overnight recovery of higher humidity, short shots of rain and lower temperatures.”

The change in weather also has helped the air quality in the Roaring Fork Valley as rain made for “relatively smoke-free area” in the valley since Friday.

The rainy weather has helped crews working the Cache Creek Fire, which is burning about 8 miles southwest of Rifle. Smoke from that fire, which started July 28, was pushing into the valley late last week making for difficult conditions for some people with health issues.

The Cache Creek Fire has burned 1,441 acres and is 5 percent contained as of Sunday morning, officials fighting that fire reported. Four structures have been evacuated along Battlement Creek Reservoir Road.

“Private land with three structures and private oil and gas infrastructure is located approximately 2 miles north and downhill of the fire; additionally private oil and gas infrastructure is located two miles to the east of the fire,” the Saturday night update said. “While not threatened at this time, firefighters continue to work closely to coordinate with landowners and oil and gas companies in the area.”

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