Weather forces crews off Spring Creek fire |

Weather forces crews off Spring Creek fire

Donna Daniels
and Dennis Webb
Staff Writers

Heavy thunderstorm activity grounded aircraft on the Spring Creek Fire north of New Castle Wednesday. Hand crews were also pulled off the fire in the afternoon for safety reasons.

As of Tuesday, the fire had burned more than 7,900 acres, and was 33 percent contained.

Strong winds up to 50 mph stoked the fire, which made runs to the north and east, said fire information officer Bud Ivey.

“The fire was very active today; it made significant runs. We had predicted extreme fire behavior for today,” he said.

Once the decision was made to ground the aircraft, the hand crews were pulled as well.

“Air support is the safety net” for the firefighters, Ivey said.

On Wednesday the National Weather Service at Walker Field in Grand Junction called for scattered thunderstorms throughout western Colorado and eastern Utah with gusty winds and dry lightning.

A red flag warning for extreme fire behavior was in effect until midnight Wednesday.

The extended forecast called for scattered thunderstorms and rain through Friday.

Ron Gosnell, another spokesman for the Spring Creek Fire, said crews went back three times Wednesday to try to fight the fire but were pulled off each time due to weather problems.

Gosnell said the runs the fire made were all within its perimeter, so the fire’s total acreage didn’t grow by much.

“What it did was let everybody know that this thing still could go,” said Gosnell. “It kind of gets your attention when you see a fire heating up 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning.”

Normally, such activity isn’t seen until later in the day, he said.

The cost of fighting the fire now stands at $2.2 million.

“This fire has been very expensive from an air resource standpoint,” said Gosnell.

Air tankers and large helicopters have been relied on to cool down areas that crews can’t get to in the rugged terrain where the fire is burning.

“You just keep buying time and buying time and buying time, and all this buying time is costing money. But that’s what we’re faced with. We can’t let this fire go.”

No structures have been burned by the fire, but crews have been working hard to protect some in the East Elk Creek valley. They also are struggling to keep it out of Canyon Creek to the east, where more buildings would be threatened.

A planned operation to burn vegetation and hold the fire’s spread was canceled Wednesday due to weather conditions. A planned burnout on the east side in the next two days will determine if the east fire line can be held, officials say.

“We’re doing our best with what we’ve got to get this thing contained. We don’t have everything we’d like to have,” said Gosnell.

He said more Type I fire crews are needed, but aren’t available due to other fires. Only Type I crews can conduct burnout operations, and they also can go places Type II crews can’t safely go.

“We’ve already had nine minor accidents by asking (firefighters) to do tough things,” Gosnell said.

Two Type I crews were on the fire Wednesday, along with eight Type II crews. However, one of the Type I crews is scheduled to leave soon for a mandatory break, Gosnell said.

The fire was begun June 22 by a lightning strike.

A total of 408 crews and support personnel worked the fire Wednesday. Five helicopters, seven engines, four bulldozers and three water tenders were in use.

Coal Seam update

In its daily advisory Wednesday, the incident management team on the Coal Seam Fire warned of a high risk of mudslides and floods through Saturday due to the monsoon-type thunderstorms.

Crews continued to extinguish hot spots on the north side of the fire and to rehabilitate fire line. A total of 52 firefighters and support crew are working the fire.

No Name Trail and Transfer Trail Road continue to be closed because of the fire. Grizzly Creek Trail is now open.

Disaster center open July 4

To serve the needs of people and businesses affected by the Coal Seam Fire, the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster recovery center in Glenwood Springs will remain open Thursday, July 4.

Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The center is located at 1317 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs.

The center will close Saturday. Until then, recovery teams at the center are available to answer questions and provide recovery information about various assistance programs to affected persons and business owners. Disaster programs include temporary housing assistance, individual and family grants, low-interest disaster loans and disaster temporary unemployment insurance.

This is also an opportunity for homeowners to receive information about wildfire mitigation and safety tips.

Individuals affected by the fire are urged to start the application process before visiting the centers by calling FEMA’s toll-free number at 1-800-621-3362.

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