Breckenridge Peak 2 fire: Evacuees return to Peak 7 homes, but fire still burns | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge Peak 2 fire: Evacuees return to Peak 7 homes, but fire still burns

The evacuation of the Peak 7 neighborhood was lifted for residents at 8 p.m. on Friday night after firefighters have cut containment lines on 70 percent of the Peak 2 Fire's perimeter and encircled a large spot fire off its northern end.

The announcement is a breakthrough in the fight against the wildfire, which first erupted on Wednesday and tore up the side of Peak 2 in a spectacular run before a shift in the wind set it down. Since then it has stayed put at around 83 acres.

Peak 7 is set to be open to the rest of the public at 10 a.m. on Saturday, and it will remain on a pre-evacuation notice along with the town of Breckenridge and the Gold Hill and Farmer's Korner neighborhoods.

Pre-evacuation has been lifted in the Silver Shekel neighborhood. All previous trail and road closures will remain in place until further notice.

While the fire's entire southeastern flank has now been lined, officials estimate it is still only about seven percent contained because fuels continue to burn within that perimeter.

"You are going to see smoke," incident commander Todd Pechota said. "I can get a line around everything, but until that heat is dissipated and everything is burned to white ash, that's not contained."

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U.S. Forest Service officials have said they don't expect the fire to be fully put out until the monsoon cycle kicks into gear in the next week or two and brings a couple of inches of water in a single storm.

But the weather was once again on firefighters' side Friday, with cloud cover and even light precipitation keeping temperatures cool throughout the afternoon.

Still, a small wildfire eerily similar to the one that grew into the Peak 2 Fire ignited on Bald Mountain in the afternoon, providing a sobering reminder of the high fire danger still gripping the county.

The fire put a one-mile radius area around Baldy Road and Fuller Placer Road in Breckenridge on pre-evacuation notice for more than two hours.

A helicopter working the nearby Peak 2 Fire was able to quickly carry out around 20 water bucket dumps on the small fire, and a ground crew successfully contained it.

Officials said an unattended campfire was the likely cause. Crews with the Breckenridge-area Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District responded to at least five unattended campfire reports Friday morning despite extensive fire restrictions countywide, chief Jim Keating said.

Stage 1 fire restrictions for the White River National Forest went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, prohibiting campfires except in developed, metal fire pans and banning smoking except in areas without vegetation.

The county government and Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne have imposed burn bans as well.

Back at the Peak 2 Fire, extremely rugged and beetle-killed terrain is limiting firefighters as they try to safely navigate tangles of fallen and standing dead trees that can come crashing down without warning.

The southeastern flank was one of the most accessible areas of the fire perimeter — which is why it could be so quickly lined — but other areas are much more perilous.

Inside the perimeter, meanwhile, embers will likely continue to smolder for some time.

"I'm going slow and deliberate because the weather is allowing us to do that," Pechota said. "I'm not sending people into that fire full of beetle-killed timber to mop up — that's a recipe for disaster."

Pechota, whose team with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team took over the fire from the Forest Service early Friday morning, said he had 343 people under his command by the evening, with around 60 on the mountain cutting lines into the night.

Two engine groups continue to work on structure protection in Breckenridge and Frisco. They are focusing their patrols on the Peak 7 neighborhood, the Gold Hill area and south side of Frisco.