Anx­i­ety smol­der­ing as wild­fires blow up

A fast­grow­ing blaze west of Sil­ver­thorne makes a run at 1,300 res­i­dences in a pair of neigh­bor­hoods.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul

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

Hugh Carey, Sum­mit Daily

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.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

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.

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