Breck­en­ridge area dodges bul­let as wind hin­ders fire

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul

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.

Pho­tos by He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

He­li­copters con­tinue to make wa­ter dumps on the Peak 2 fire near Breck­en­ridge.

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