Update: Gutzler Fire southwest of Kremmling closing in on Grand County border; local officials preparing contingency plans
(Updated at 1:30 p.m. Thursday to include information from Grand County officials)
The Gutzler Fire, located southwest of Kremmling in Eagle County, continues to rage since it began Sunday, now growing to encompass over 800 acres of forest service land and nearing the borders of Grand County, according to the most recent update from the U.S. Forest Service officials.
The fire’s size jumped from covering 97 acres to 304 acres on Monday night, and grew to around 850 acres by Wednesday morning, according to mapping performed by multi-mission aircraft. The fire is currently located southwest of Kremmling and about nine miles west of Green Mountain Reservoir.
Grand County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that it has prepared contingency plans in case the fire doubles back and reaches Grand County. Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin and Undersheriff Wayne Schafer were briefed Thursday morning on the current details surrounding the fire at the fire’s command post set up in Radium.
“With its current conditions, the Gutzler Fire is over a mile and a half from Grand County and is moving to the south and away from the county,” the department said Thursday.
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According to officials working the fire, there is very defensible terrain with natural breaks that the fire would have to cross to reach Grand County, if it changed directions. If the fire backtracked on its original course toward the county, the lack of fuel would cause the fire to burn out.
Lt. Dan Mayer, spokesperson for the sheriff’s department, noted that the fire would need to change directions entirely, following the terrain of the landscape, and curve back towards Kremmling before Grand County was in danger of being directly impacted by the blaze.
Mayer indicated that if such a scenario did occur, county officials would likely have multiple days to prepare fire lines before the fire would actually cross into the county.
The rapid growth of the fire was not completely unexpected based on the type of fuel in the surrounding terrain, explained Kate Jerman, public information officer for the Gutzler fire and White River National Forest.
“It’s burning mixed conifer, some live timber and beetle-kill,” Jerman said. “For this fuel type that the fire is burning in, it was an expected and normal increase.”
While there are no homes or structures currently labeled as threatened, those living in the surrounding area must be careful of smoke in the area, Jerman advised.
Eagle County residents and those in the area surrounding the fire should keep their windows closed and avoid outdoor activities for prolonged amounts of time.
As many as 85 firefighters are actively working to suppress the blaze — which ignited after an area of land was struck by lightning — as well as numerous teams digging containment lines, workers monitoring moisture levels and several aircraft assisting. The area had been smoldering since late June, finally erupting in flames July 2.
Containment lines are being dug along the east and southeast portions of the perimeter, and are being connected to natural barriers such as rock bands. About 75 percent of a line has also been built along the southwestern flank, and crews are hopeful the lines will be finished at some point today.
Multi-mission aircraft have been brought in twice to map the fire, and helicopters are being used to conduct water drops and provide reconnaissance. Due to the terrain, however, there are some areas firefighters will not be able to reach.
“Firefighter safety is the top priority here,” Jerman said. “Especially with this fuel type, there’s just certain places we can’t place firefighters. There’s a lot of dead and down trees due to beetle-kill.”
Despite the fire’s proximity near Kremmling, no crews from Grand County are currently assisting with the fire, according to Brady Mathis, firefighter technician for Kremmling Fire, though most of the aerial assets being used to fight the fire are flying out of the Kremmling Airport.
“Until they need to start using our resources, we won’t get involved,” said Mathis.
Local officials explained that, despite the fire’s proximity to Grand County, there are currently no plans to institute fire restrictions.
Most counties use a Standardized Federal Fire Matrix to determine existing fire potential and conditions and evaluate the need to implement fire restrictions. Grand County falls very low on the matrix and has not reached a rating near restriction status. Though the rating could change with weather conditions and is reviewed on a weekly basis.
(Lance Maggart, Sky-Hi News reporter, contributed to this report.)
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