Breckenridge area dodges bullet as wind hinders fire
SUMMIT COUNTY» A shift in the wind Wednesday afternoon prevented an intense, fastgrowing wildfire from moving into the town of Breckenridge. Nevertheless the blaze prompted the evacuation of about 450 homes and led officials to put residents and visitors in the resort town on notice to leave.
About 3 p.m., a thick, black plume of smoke rose into the sky from the blaze, which began near a section of the Colorado Trail. But by sundown, only white smoke was wafting into the air from the 82-acre burn, called the Peak 2 fire.
“We would like to take credit for that,” said Jim Keating, chief of the Red White and Blue Fire Protection District, “but we’ve got to give credit to the winds. When the wind did shift, it actually pushed the fire back into the burned area and was able to slow it down.”
Fires are burning hundreds of acres across the high country amid hot, dry conditions. Fire bans have been put into
place — including in Summit County — as authorities warn of more fast-moving fires being possible.
Other fires in Colorado include the East Rim fire in southwest Colorado and the Gutzler fire on the White River National Forest. Both are burning on about 300 acres but not threatening structures.
The Peak 2 fire was first spotted just before noon Wednesday by a mountain biker about 4 miles north of Breckenridge. The blaze was only about 50 feet by 50 feet. But by the time firefighters reached the heavily wooded area an hour later, flames had spread to the tops of trees. About 5 p.m., the winds changed and the fire pushed back into where it had already burned.
Complicating the firefighting efforts were large amounts of dead, beetle-killed timber throughout the forest.
In the Peak 7 neighborhood about 3 miles from the fire line and which was under a mandatory evacuation order, residents were in a flurry of activity Wednesday evening, packing up their cars and trying to protect their homes. At one house, a sprinkler was running on the roof. The evacuated area includes primary residences and vacation homes.
At one spot overlooking the fire, a group of people was gathered with binoculars, watching the blaze.
Aaron Golbeck and Garret Bailey, sitting in lawn chairs, kept tabs on the smoke and flames for an hour or more.
“My truck is all packed up,” Golbeck said.
Willie Trowbridge has lived in the area for 35 years and says he has never seen a blaze as big as the Peak 2 fire.
“It seems like it really died down,” he said. “This is by far the biggest wildfire I’ve ever seen in the Peak 10 range.”
Officials say they don’t know how the fire began but that it ignited about 500 feet from a nearby trail. There hasn’t been lightning — how wildfires begin naturally — for a few days, Chief Keating said.
The blaze was burning on federal land in the White River National Forest. Bill Jackson, the U.S. Forest Service district ranger, said there were concerns that hot weather Thursday could cause the fire to flare up. Evacuations will be re-evaluated at noon Thursday, and crews — including elite Hotshot firefighters and smoke jumpers, as well as local crews and air resources — were to monitor the burn overnight Wednesday.
Summit County largely has been spared from massive wildfires that have plagued other parts of Colorado in the past two decades. There are 156,000 acres of beetle-kill timber in the area, which can lead to volatile behavior during burns.
“We are fortunate,” said Summit County Undersheriff Joel Cochran. “We’ve done an awful lot. You can look pretty much anywhere in the county and see some effort at fuel reduction or fuel treatments . ... This is in a place where you just can’t get on the ground.”
A Type 1 incident management team is scheduled to take over command of the firefighting efforts Thursday afternoon.
Amy Noraka, holding daughter Sage, 3, left, joins her husband Chris, with son Tyler, 6, watching helicopters fight the Peak 2 fire Wednesday.
Helicopters continue to make water dumps on the Peak 2 fire near Breckenridge.