Blaze keeping Breck on edge
Residents will not be able to return home until at least Friday, despite progress
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-
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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.”
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.