Blaze keep­ing Breck on edge

Res­i­dents will not be able to re­turn home un­til at least Fri­day, de­spite progress

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul

SUM­MIT COUNTY» Those evac­u­ated from about 450 houses in the Breckenridge area be­cause of the Peak 2 fire won’t be able to re­turn home un­til at least Fri­day, au­thor­i­ties said. De­spite mak­ing progress bat­tling the burn, se­ri­ous con­cerns re­main about the po­ten­tial for it to grow.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice says the wild­fire is 7 per­cent con­tained thanks to cloud cover Thurs­day, which gave crews the ad­van­tage they needed to be­gin get­ting a han­dle on the blaze.

But, ac­cord­ing to Sum­mit County Un­der­sh­er­iff Joel Cochran, flames are just over a mile from res­i­dences. With un­fa­vor­able weather pos­si­ble in the comA ing days, it’s too risky to end the evac­u­a­tion or­ders, he said. The fire is burn­ing in ex­treme ter­rain in dense for­est.

“We don’t want people to be out of their homes any longer than they need to be,” he said. “... We don’t know (how long the evac­u­a­tions will last). We don’t know what the fire will do (Fri­day).”

The Peak 7 neigh­bor­hood re­mains un­der a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der, and the Gold Hill and Farm­ers Korner ar­eas, along with the town of Breckenridge, are still on a pre-evac­u­a­tion no­tice.

The fire — burn­ing about 2 miles north of Breckenridge Ski Re­sort — is es­ti­mated at about 85 acres. More than 100 fire­fight­ers and sev­eral he­li­copters were bat­tling the burn Thurs­day un­der bro­ken clouds, steady winds and the oc­ca­sional driz­zle. More re­sources, in­clud­ing a type one in­ci­dent man­age­ment team, are geared up to tackle the blaze in the com­ing days.

“The cloud cover helped a lot this morn­ing,” said Kate Jer­man, a spokes­woman for the Peak 2 fire com­mand. “The cloud cover af­fected the rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity, which kept the fire be­hav­ior min­i­mal.”

Jer­man said it’s “un­clear at this point” if the fire will spread more, and of­fi­cials are be­ing care­ful not to send fire­fight­ers into ar­eas where there is high dan­ger. That in­cludes pock­ets where there are bee­tle-kill trees, which can be silent killers when they or their limbs fall un­ex­pect­edly.

As a pre­cau­tion, crews were work­ing Thurs­day to re­duce po­ten­tial fire dan­ger to homes in the ar­eas sur­round­ing the fire in case it spreads. That in­cludes pri­vate com­pa­nies work­ing for in­sur­ance agen­cies as smoke wafted into the air from the burn.

“I think we pulled the trig­ger just be­cause of the po­ten­tial,” said John Rhein­bolt, a su­per­vi­sor for one of those busi­nesses, Wild­fire De­fense Sys­tems, as he stood at a Sum­mit County Sher­iff’s Of­fice check­point at an en­trance to the Peak 7 neigh­bor­hood.

Deputies were al­low­ing res­i­dents to re­turn to their houses briefly to pick up items they left be­hind. A steady stream of ve­hi­cles headed in and out of the sub-

An­gry dis­abil­ity rights ac­tivist Dawn Rus­sell is one of hun­dreds at­tend­ing a protest out­side U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner’s Den­ver of­fice Thurs­day to spot­light the im­por­tance of Med­i­caid, which faces se­vere cuts in the health care bill in the U.S. Sen­ate. Sev­eral people were ar­rested dur­ing a sit-in last week in­side the of­fice. di­vi­sion.

Lau­rie Ma­son was keep­ing tabs on her house Thurs­day af­ter­noon in the neigh­bor­hood after an ember from the wild­fire blew miles to her prop­erty on Wed­nes­day and burned a hole in her shirt. “Lit­tle pieces of burned pine trees and em­bers from the fire were float­ing in the air,” she said, stand­ing out­side of her moun­tain home in a light rain.

The Peak 2 fire was first spot­ted just be­fore noon Wed­nes­day by a moun­tain biker roughly 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 lat- er, flames had spread to the tops of trees and were send­ing mas­sive plumes of smoke into the air.

About 5 p.m., how­ever, the winds changed di­rec­tion and the fire pushed back into where it al­ready had burned, ef­fec­tively snuff­ing out the burn’s run to­ward Peak 7 and Breckenridge.

Of­fi­cials say they don’t know how the fire be­gan but that it ig­nited about 500 feet from a nearby trail. There hadn’t been light­ning — how wild­fires be­gin nat­u­rally — for a few days be­fore the fire started. The Sum­mit County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and For­est Ser­vice plan to in­ves­ti­gate the blaze’s cause.

No in­juries have been re­ported, and no struc­tures have been dam­aged.

Dozens of res­i­dents, anx­ious to keep tabs on the sit­u­a­tion, showed up Thurs­day night at a com­mu­nity meet­ing. The fire is the first real fire scare for many in the Breckenridge area, and Sum­mit County has not had the de­struc­tive blazes ex­pe­ri­enced else­where in the state in the past two decades.

Of­fi­cials say the fire is likely to burn for months — pos­si­bly un­til it snows — even after it is fully con­tained.

“If this is go­ing to con­tinue all sum­mer, we might want to move some­where else for a while,” said Richard Shaf­fer, who lives south of the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion zone, as he waited for the com­mu­nity meet­ing to be­gin.

“We’ve got the RV packed and ready,” said his wife, Pat. “It seems to be get­ting a lot bet­ter, but we just wanted to con­firm that.”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Sum­mit County sher­iff ’s Deputy SJ Hamit talks to res­i­dents about ac­cess to the Peak 7 neigh­bor­hood Thurs­day in Breckenridge. Fire of­fi­cials are still con­cerned with the pos­si­bil­ity of flare-ups.

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