Crews make significant progress on Sylvan Fire despite containment remaining at zero
Moisture is giving firefighters extra time, but won’t extinguish blaze that’s torched 3,775 acres
Vail Daily News
9:30 p.m. update: The rain that has fallen on the Sylvan Fire in recent days has been a blessing. That said, it has also slowed down firefighting efforts in some of the most treacherous terrain of the burn.
With the help of nearly an inch of rain, on average, across the fire since Thursday, the blaze south of Eagle in the White River National Forest has hung tight at 3,775 acres — nearly 6 square miles.
But with the rain comes slippery footing, which slowed firefighting efforts Friday and Saturday in the more troublesome terrain of the blaze, located south and east of LEDE Reservoir.
As of Saturday night, containment on the fire remains at zero, but those numbers should come up in the coming days, said Michelle Kelly, a public information officer working with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team assigned to the fire.
“The rain brought slowing of fire behavior and fire growth, but it also provides some slippery conditions that actually slow down some of the firefighting,” Kelly said. “We do expect some of those containment numbers to come up.”
Kelly said late Saturday night that there are now 318 personnel on the fire, up from 264 at the start of the day. The fire has been classified the top priority incident in the Rocky Mountain Region as incident commanders hope additional resources will be deployed to the blaze in the days ahead.
During a Friday evening Facebook community meeting, Rob Powell, the operations section chief for the fire, noted that the resources at risk — an Xcel Energy transmission line and the Eagle and Gypsum watersheds — earned the priority designation. And with that title, he said additional resources should be headed to the fight. But with a fiery summer already started, Western resources are starting to thin.
Rain to the rescue
The fire, on average, received 0.2 inches of rain Friday night and into Saturday morning and saw another 0.2 inches Saturday afternoon and evening. All told, 0.89 inches of rain have fallen on the fire since Thursday, but the rain has not fallen equally across the fire.
A hot shot crew working the fire Saturday was able to engage directly with the fire in some areas, Kelly said.
“They’re making some really good progress in some really steep terrain,” she said.
The Sylvan Fire has split into two main branches. Crews are attacking one branch along the Eagle Thomasville Road, which will be the primary fire line.
“We’re working really hard on that 400 road and getting that dug in, so that the fire doesn’t push harder and higher when it dries out,” Kelly said.
Kelly called the fire a “mosaic fire” with patches of green and black throughout the forest — and those green spots could become troublesome in the coming days when it is expected to dry out.
She said fire officials are always cautious about putting containment line on a map, wanting to be absolutely certain that an ember can’t cross a fire line when temperatures dry out or wind kicks up — which is what happened when the fire had its big blowup earlier in the week.
“We really want to make sure that we’re cold trailing, and that there’s not something like that could cross the road,” she said.
While the fire burned down to Sylvan Lake this week, Powell noted that crews launched a direct attack in that area. He said crews worked the fire’s edge using natural features to corral the spread.
“Things are looking really good there. We are making progress,” Powell said.
The other branch of the fire is burning in more troublesome terrain. Accessibility is difficult in the area, located south and east of LEDE Reservoir near Gypsum. Crews have made significant progress lining the portion of the fire that moved south of the Mount Thomas Trail and ridgeline. The objective of completing this section of line to prevent further southward fire movement should be met in the next few days, according to a Saturday morning update. Firefighters will then prepare an indirect fireline extending westward along Mount Thomas Trail.
Portions of this part of the fire are steep, inaccessible and unsafe to put firefighters into. If an accident or injury were to happen to a firefighter in this terrain, it would be extremely difficult to get them out for treatment, fire managers said.
Supervisors will monitor the fire’s activity in the area and take action only if necessary to stop the fire at the indirect line. Natural features, such as scree slopes and aspen stands, will instead be used where possible to restrict the fire’s advancement.
In the northwestern part of the fire, firefighters continue to build direct fireline using UTV’s to access the area over existing primitive roads and trails.
Location: Eagle County, White River National Forest in Sylvan Lake State Park, 16 miles south of Eagle
Size: 3,775 acres
Cause: Suspected lightning, still under investigation
Date of Ignition: June 20 around 3:15 PM
Firefighting Personnel: 264 and counting
As fire crews dig into the blaze, evacuations and closures have been lifted in some areas near the Sylvan Fire.
As another wave of rainstorms soaked the valley Friday afternoon, Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek announced he modified some of the evacuation orders associated with the Sylvan Fire.
The evacuation orders for the areas of Fulford, Yeoman and Hat Creek have now been downgraded to a pre-evacuation status. Residents in this area should still be prepared to leave the area immediately with little to no notice should evacuation orders be reinstated.
The pre-evacuation orders for Salt Creek, Bruce Creek and Frost Creek have been lifted.
The Hardscrabble area will remain under a mandatory evacuation order and is closed at this time. The Gypsum Creek area remains under a pre-evacuation order.
The Burnt Mountain Road and Woods Lake areas have been downgraded to a pre-evacuation status. Residents in these areas should still be prepared to leave immediately with little to no notice should evacuation orders be reinstated.
But while campers can return to the woods, Leanne Veldhuis of the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest reminded recreationalists that Stage 2 fire regulations have been enacted across the forest.
That means no campfires, even in established campgrounds,” she said.
On Friday, van Beek enacted Stage 2 fire restrictions countywide.
Powell said most of the fire crews are camping out at Sylvan Lake State Park. “They are happy up there. It is great camping,” he said. Future plans include establishing a second base camp at LEDE Reservoir.
“There has been nothing but great hospitality around town,” added Paul Duarte of the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Team. He thanked community members for their support for fire crews.
“We will be here for a little while,” Duarte said.
During Friday’s Facebook community meeting, Van Beek noted there as been some online chatter from drone pilots about scoping out the burn area.
“Do not, do not, do not fly your drones up in the area,” Van Beek said. “You are violating the law and putting lives at risk.”
Temporary flight restrictions are in place over the Sylvan Fire. Wildfires are a no drone zone. If you fly, firefighting resources can’t. Whenever a drone is spotted near the fire, all aircraft are grounded until the drone is clear of the area. For more information, visit KnowBeforeYouFly.org.
For the latest information about Sylvan Fire pre-evacuation or evacuation notices or fire restriction on non-Federal lands, visit ECEmergency.org for Eagle County and PitkinEmergency.org for Pitkin County. For the latest on area, road, and trail closures and fire restrictions on National Forest lands, visit FS.USDA.gov/whiteriver.
All the info you need
There is a new Facebook page, Sylvan Fire Information, where updates will be provided.
As with all Eagle County emergencies, the community is coming together to support the first responders fighting the Sylvan Fire.
The Eagle Valley Community Foundation is currently rallying resources, including food, for the firefighters as they continue to arrive in Eagle County. As part of its Community Market program, the foundation is supplying snacks and meals for the fighters with the help of local restaurants and the local MIRA bus.
For Friday morning, Grand Avenue Grill is preparing 400 servings of eggs, bacon, fruit and waffles for the firefighters.
The foundation is also putting together a relief fund for the firefighters to help them get the resources they need. Donations can be made at eaglevalleycf.org.
The local Red Cross and Salvation Army are also helping to provide support right now.
Dan Smith, with the Vail Valley Salvation Army, has been on the scene since Sunday in his 4-wheel drive canteen set-up, providing meals on site for the firefighters.
“It’s an art form,” Smith said. “They’ve had a terrible day and we like to be a highlight.”
Friday, Smith and his canteen will be clearing out to allow for other community organizations to provide meals. However, you can continue to support the Vail Valley Salvation Army as they provide require volunteers and resources for future efforts with the fire. Smith also noted that the local Salvation Army is always looking for large commercial kitchens to provide meals during emergencies.
For more information on how to support or volunteer to help the local Salvation Army, call 970-748-0704.
A pre-evacuation order has been issued for Gypsum Creek Road past mile marker 6, Frost Creek, Salt Creek and Bruce Creek.
People in these areas may be asked to evacuate if the fire worsens.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for the areas of Hat Creek, Yeoman State Park, and Fulford.
Those who have immediate needs for relocating livestock should call 970-379-7731. Now is the time to prepare to leave and consider precautionary movement of those with special needs, mobile property and large animals.
Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum may be used as an evacuation center. Both Eagle Valley Middle and Eagle Valley Elementary have been offered up as staging and camp areas for the Forest Service and firefighters.
Hardscrabble Road is completely closed, and the town of Eagle has posted information about fire-related trail closures at TownOfEagle.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=519.
For the latest information about pre-evacuation or evacuation notices, visit ECEmergency.org for Eagle County and PitkinCounty.com for Pitkin County.
The latest information, including a map of the closure when it is available, will be posted at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7562.
For more information about wildfire smoke visit EPA.gov/smoke-ready-toolbox-wildfires.
Pam Boyd and Ali Longwell contributed reporting
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