Containment near on Pine Ridge Fire

The San Carlos camp crew from Arizona sets up a big tent at the ball park fields in DeBeque where many of the crews are sleeping during the fire. A Type-One team consists of not only firefighters but many support crews to take care of the logistical and personal needs. With all the influx of activity, the sleepy town of DeBeque has doubled in population.

Full containment of the Pine Ridge wildfire southwest of De Beque is expected this week as fire resources will start trickling away to battle other regional blazes, authorities said Monday.

“Barring unforeseen changes in fire behavior or extreme weather, we should have containment by July 5,” said Bill Hahnenberg, Pine Ridge incident commander with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

A pre-evacuation order announced Friday night for residents in and around De Beque will be lifted at 6 a.m. today. The order’s dismissal will allow residents to return livestock and large animals to the area. Oil and gas operations in the area will be able to resume as well. Places inside the fire line will remain closed to the public.

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two executive orders releasing Colorado National Guard members to help fight the Pine Ridge Fire and the Eby Creek Fire in Eagle County. The executive order pertaining to the Pine Ridge Fire also authorized $500,000 to fill the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund and pay for firefighting efforts at Pine Ridge.

Hahnenberg said some 420 firefighters, supported by 38 engines and six helicopters, were expected to be split between the northern and south edges of the blaze, which had burned some 13,920 acres as of Monday morning.

Containment stood at 65 percent Monday evening. The southern side of the fire needs to be checked for hot spots before it can be declared contained.

Authorities Friday and Saturday feared the blaze could hop the river and the interstate, threatening homes, transmission power lines and potentially closing 45 ½ Road leading out of De Beque and I-70.

“The railroad has been really helpful in helping us get firefighters in that area,” Hahnenberg said.

The Pine Ridge Fire has burned since Wednesday and was caused by a lightning strike.

Crews appeared to have the upper hand on the Pine Ridge blaze as a major air resource for firefighters was unavailable on Monday. A U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane, equipped to drop fire retardant, crashed Sunday while fighting a wildfire near the Black Hills of South Dakota. As a result, all fixed-wing tankers were grounded as of Monday morning, according to Shawna Hartman, a spokeswoman for the Pine Ridge Fire.

Hahnenberg said they didn’t anticipate needing air tankers Monday or today, although five helicopters making water drops were still working near De Beque.

“I think we’ll be fine holding this fire with those helicopters,” Hahnenberg said. “We’re fortunate the timing is not really going to affect our operations.”

Cost, meanwhile, of the Pine Ridge Fire was estimated Monday morning at just over $2.43 million.


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