Anxiety smoldering as wildfires blow up
A fastgrowing blaze west of Silverthorne makes a run at 1,300 residences in a pair of neighborhoods.
Wildfire anxiety in Colorado is peaking after a fastgrowing blaze west of Silverthorne ignited Tuesday morning and made a hasty run at more than 1,300 houses and condominiums in a pair of neighborhoods, prompting a quick round of mandatory evacuations as authorities rushed to get people out of its path.
By afternoon, though, officials were optimistic about their battle against the Buffalo fire, which elicited a massive response of firefighters and firefighting aircraft and was burning on about 100 acres in the White River National Forest.
“Things are looking really good around the two subdivisions at this time,” Jim Genung, with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, said at a news conference. “Things are looking really pretty good right now.”
Fires are raging across Colorado, keeping crews busy as they fight to protect homes from flames fueled by drought, tinderdry air and Rocky Mountain winds. Springtime predictions of a wild summer of blazes across the state appear to be proving themselves true — and with a fervor.
“We recognize the conditions are dry and hot,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. “As we have proved time and time again, Coloradans are resilient.”
The 416 fire, about 10 miles north of Durango and burning since June 1, stood at 23,378 acres with 15 percent containment as of Tuesday evening. Some evacuees were set to be allowed to return home Wednesday morning.
The more than 900 firefighters working that blaze have employed every measure in the book to keep homes along the perimeter out of harm’s way, including burning grasses and bushes ahead of the fire, bulldozing and shoveling fire breaks, dropping retardant from a small fleet of aircraft and installing sprinkler systems.
“I think we’ve had help from the angels,” said Rob Powell, operations chief for the fire, which has prompted the closure of the 1.8 million acre San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. “We’re not out of the woods by any means, but we’ve been very fortunate there have not been any homes burned or firefighters hurt.”
The Buffalo fire is burning in an area of unincorporated Summit County near the Wildernest and Mesa Cortina subdivisions — where residents of about 1,400 units were ordered to flee immediately. People in the Lower Buffalo Mountain area, in about 1,100 units, have been placed on pre-evacuation notice.
Officials said the blaze was initially emitting embers that were starting spot fires within about 250 feet of homes and structures.
“We have no reports of any structures lost at this time,” said Julie McCluskie, a spokeswoman for the fire command.
There were 50 firefighters battling the fire as of Tuesday evening, with another 100 en route. Several air assets have also been assigned to the blaze, with more helicopters and planes requested.
Images from the scene showed thick smoke pouring into the air and aerial firefighting resources trying to tamp down the blaze. Officials said the fire was burning in heavy fuels.
Authorities were alerted to the Silverthorne-area fire just before 11 a.m. after receiving several 911 calls about smoke. Summit Fire/ EMS Chief Jeff Berino said emergency dispatchers were “inundated” with calls.
“The fire grew extremely rapidly,” Berino said.
The start location was reported between the Mesa Cortina and Buffalo Mountain trailheads.
“We don’t know the cause of the fire,” said Julie Sutor, a Summit County spokeswoman. “We haven’t received any information on that yet.”
Summit County Sheriff Jaime Fitz-Simons said at a news conference that he didn’t know when the scores of evacuees from the Buffalo fire — named for its proximity to Buffalo Mountain — might be allowed to return home.
“We’ve got to watch the fire and the activity and what it’s going to do,” he said.
Above: A helicopter returns for water after making a drop on the 416 fire on Tuesday in Hermosa. The fire, northwest of Durango, has burned more than 23,000 acres. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Left: Erin Sirek, who is with the Summit County Sheriff ’s Department, carries 9yearold Emilio Eltsova, who has cerebral palsy, as residents evacuate their homes ahead of flames approaching the Wildernest neighborhood, near Silverthorne, on Tuesday.
Hermosa resident Andy Dougherty and his wife, Mandy, not pictured, on Tuesday made a sign to thank firefighters for saving their home from the 416 fire in southwest Colorado.