Community briefing

Keith Brink, chief of fire operations, speaks Monday evening at Basalt High School during a community briefing on the Lake Christine Fire.

Update: As of Tuesday evening, the fire is 43 percent contained.

After torching more than 6,000 acres, the Lake Christine Fire was 39 percent contained as of late Monday afternoon, officials said during a community briefing Monday evening at Basalt High School.

The blaze grew approximately 200 acres from 9 a.m. Monday, and firefighting crews continue to work around the clock to keep it in check.

Keith Brink, chief of fire operations, said much of the efforts are concentrated on the northern perimeter of the fire as it has been going toward Basalt Mountain. Sunday’s rains helped to stem the fire’s growth, he said, but weren’t enough to help on Monday. Temperatures in the 80s and 90s and low humidity combined to dry out natural fuels.

“Because the northern end of the fire is still uncontained and located in steep, rugged terrain, the fire will likely continue to spread in that direction for some time,” an Eagle County Sheriff’s Office statement says. “Additionally, within the fire’s existing perimeter, there are both unburned islands of timber, as well as some areas of scrub oak which burned incompletely. These fuels could ignite as areas dry out, so group torching and fire runs in this area are still possible.”

As a result, the statement says that “smoke will continue to be visible for some time, and if the fuels ignite in the evening, flames or a glow also will be visible.”

Roger Staats, deputy incident commander, said Monday’s conditions were extremely dry, but that higher humidity levels are forecast for today. The National Weather Service office in Grand Junction predicts an 80 percent chance of rain on Wednesday for the Basalt area, with thunderstorms expected in the afternoon. Thursday’s chances for precipitation are 60 percent.

“With the drying today, we expect maybe a little more fire activity, especially at the top of the fire,” Staats said.

He stressed the tough conditions on the northern perimeter, which is rocky, steep and home to subalpine fur trees. “Subalpine furs are really difficult to fight fire in; it throws up tons of embers and creates multiple spots across the landscape,” Staats said.

He said he expects 45 percent containment, if not greater, after today. He also said that officials are trying to develop long-term plans. The fire will probably reach Basalt Mountain before monsoon rains arrive, Staats said.

When the monsoons will become a regular afternoon occurrence is not known. Ryan Boudreau, a forecaster with aspenweather.net, said though rain is predicted Wednesday and Thursday, the weekend will be dry. Thunderstorms are predicted to return on the following Monday and Tuesday, then perhaps on the weekend of July 21-22.

Cory Gates of aspenweather.net said that under the true definition of monsoon rains, the regular storm pattern won’t arrive until the end of the month or later.

A map of the fire’s perimeter showed sections of containment on the southern end, bordering the areas of Basalt, El Jebel and Missouri Heights. After growing to the east toward Basalt on Wednesday afternoon, high winds changed direction, and the fire raged back to the west overnight, which led to the destruction of three houses: one in Missouri Heights and two near the El Jebel Mobile Home Park.

As of Monday evening, no other structures had been destroyed, officials said.

Brink said a huge challenge on the northeast section of the perimeter involves working with power-company personnel to replace 40 to 50 poles that carried transmission lines. The poles are either burning or they are broken.

Power-company and firefighting personnel “are working their tails off” to get the lines repaired, he said.

Disaster declaration

The Basalt Town Council meets this evening, and Town Manager Ryan Mahoney plans to provide an “update on fire and emergency preparedness,” according to the meeting agenda. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.

“This is just to let them know [the emergency procedures] we had in place leading up to this event,” he said Monday. “The reason the response went as well as it did up front is because of the collaboration that occurred among area agencies, which included the town of Basalt, community members, Pitkin and Eagle counties, the fire department, the list goes on.”

Because an emergency plan already was in place, “people knew what to do once this fire kicked off,” Mahoney said.

He said that council members will be presented with a proposed resolution to ratify a declaration of a local disaster emergency. A local emergency already has been declared, he said, but a council vote is needed to make it official.

The resolution states, “Emergency response officials have indicated that the Lake Christine Fire may burn for several weeks unless there is substantial precipitation. In this time, the [fire] will continue to impose an imminent threat to widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property.”

If ratified, the declaration will remain in effect until July 24, unless terminated earlier by the town manager, the resolution says.

Mahoney said the disaster declaration is necessary for the future application of state and federal funds to assist with the public and private cost of damages.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.

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